OILERS (9-5-2) at BLACKHAWKS (10-4-3)
TV: SNET-EDM, WGN
Edmonton 7-3-0; Chicago 6-3-1
This is the first of four meetings between the two Western Conference teams. The two teams split their four meetings last season, with the road team winning all four games.
In a matchup of division leaders, youth-driven Edmonton looks to right the ship against Chicago, which is 6-1-2 at home. After winning six in a row to close out October, the Oilers have lost two straight and three of five on their road trip, which concludes at the United Center. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are winners of their last two and have built a five-point edge in the Central.
Upon further inspection, Edmonton’s recent struggles are less concerning than the two straight losses seem. In Boston and Detroit, the Oilers came away empty-handed against two of the hottest teams in the League on their home ice. Still, coach Tom Renney said the young Oilers must fix the mental mistakes to compete against the League’s best.
“I think we had to dedicate far too much of our game to penalty-killing,” Renney said after Detroit handed Edmonton its first shutout of the season, 3-0. “I think if we could have stayed out of the penalty box … and continued to build on some small excesses throughout the game, it might have been a different outcome. That was a good team that took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. I think our battle level weaned throughout the game.”
After three straight losses last week, Chicago looks to be back on track after wins on consecutive nights. The Hawks whipped Columbus 6-3 on the road Thursday, then shut down Calgary 4-1 on Friday at home. Best of all, Chicago’s blue line is getting involved, with Steve Montador
, Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
all scoring their first of the season.
"That's part of our game that needs to be there," Keith said. "I think it's important that we stay on that and help contribute.
"It's nice to get points and things like that but the main thing is just keeping plays alive and having good gaps and supporting our forwards."
Though Patrick Kane
may have more points, Marian Hossa
is the most valuable Hawk on the depth chart. Hossa, who has a goal and two assists over the last two games, is a League-best plus-11 on the season.
Oilers defenseman Cam Barker
is expected to miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, and Ryan Whitney
is out for three weeks after suffering a sprained right knee in late October. … Hawks forward Dave Bolland
is doubtful with a bruised right foot that has kept him out for the past two games.
Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin
suffered his first regulation loss of the season Friday, dropping to 7-1-2. In Chicago, backup Ray Emery
made 24 saves to beat Calgary and improve to 3-0-1 on the year. Starter Corey Crawford
– despite allowing 12 goals in three games – will likely be back in net.
"It's not the direction that we want to be going," said Edmonton winger Taylor Hall
, who has just one assist in seven road games. "We really want to finish this road trip at .500. If we do, I think that would be a successful road trip considering the teams that we've played. We want to get our game going the right way, the way we were playing when we were on our win streak."