OILERS (15-19-3) at BLACKHAWKS (24-10-4)
Oilers 2-8-0; Blackhawks 8-2-0
This is the third of four games between Edmonton and Chicago and the teams have split the first two –- with both sides winning on home ice. The Hawks took care of the Oilers 6-3 on Nov. 13 at the United Center, but the Oilers paid them back and then some a week later at Rexall Place with a 9-2 shellacking during Chicago's yearly "circus trip."
You can't blame the Blackhawks if they're looking at this game as a chance to get revenge for that embarrassing defeat in Edmonton, which helped inflate their otherwise solid penalty kill statistics with four Oilers power-play goals and had the pro-Oilers crowd pleading for a 10th goal before time mercifully ran out. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called it a humiliating loss and his players agreed. The Hawks have since turned it around with a 12-4-1 record after that game and now sit atop the Western Conference standings with 52 points. Edmonton, meanwhile, is reeling. After getting off to a solid 8-2-2 start, the wheels have come off for the youth-oriented Oilers. They've lost three straight and have a 7-17-1 record in their past 25 games, including a 4-1 road loss on Saturday night to the New York Islanders.
A pair of undisciplined roughing penalties called on former Blackhawk Ben Eager
both led to power-play goals for the Islanders, who used them to drub the Oilers 4-1 on New Year's Eve at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Eager also picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty and 10-minute misconduct in the second period to cap a rough night for him and his team. The loss gave Edmonton its third straight defeat to start a seven-game road trip caused by the World Junior Championship being played at the Oilers' Rexall Place. Saturday's game also featured the past three No.1-overall picks playing for both teams, but New York's John Tavares (2009) got the best of the Oilers' Taylor Hall
(2010) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(2011) with one goal and one assist.
"We're fighting from the bottom looking up," Oilers defenseman Andy Sutton
said afterward. "We have to the make the most of these opportunities against teams that are on our level."
After waiting nearly nine months to play their longest-tenured rival on Friday night at the United Center, the Blackhawks exacted some measure of revenge for a stinging loss on last season's final day to the Detroit Red Wings. Brent Seabrook
's goal to start the third period wound up standing up as the game-winner in a 3-2 win that put a little bit of separation between the top-seated Hawks and Wings in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings. Captain Jonathan Toews
and Marian Hossa
were also dominant against Detroit, with both scoring goals and Toews getting his on a penalty shot -- which was Chicago's first of the season and the first of his career in his second attempt. Chicago went a sterling 10-2-1 in the month of December and shows no signs of slowing up.
"It was a great month," Hossa said. "We just have to build on that, start January the same way (and) try to win another hockey game."
Hossa's 41 points ranks him in the League's Top 10 for scoring and he's recorded points in nine of his past 10 games (6 goals, 9 assists) for the Hawks; Jordan Eberle
had a six-game point streak snapped against the Islanders, in which he scored five goals and added three assists. He's also on the verge of the League's top-10 scoring leaders with 39 points.
Chicago's Marcus Kruger
, who's missed the past two games, continues to battle an upper body injury believed to be related to concussion symptoms; Cam Barker
(ankle) is still out, top defenseman Ryan Whitney
has missed three straight games with an ankle injury and rookie defenseman Alex Plante
has missed two straight games after being diagnosed with a concussion.
The Blackhawks have killed off six straight power plays over the past two games and 14 of the last 16 they've faced in the past four games, including six of seven Dec. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins; after going 0-for-4 on the man advantage on Long Island Saturday night, the Oilers' road power play's success rate dropped to 15.5 percent -- almost 10 percentage points lower than their League-high home rate of 24.4 percent.
Chicago's 22-year old Jimmy Hayes
had an impressive NHL debut against the Red Wings on Friday night, by nearly scoring his first goal in the first period and throwing his 6-foot-6, 221-pound frame around all night, finishing with four hits in 8:23 of ice time.
"I thought he asserted himself well," Quenneville said. "He was dangerous around the net. He didn't play a ton, but great first game for him."
Hayes' younger brother, Kevin, was the Hawks' top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (24th overall) and currently plays at Boston College.