CHICAGO, IL - The Oilers are looking to bust out the brooms in the Windy City tonight with a chance to sweep their four-game road trip by taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in the finale.
Edmonton extended its season-opening streak to five games on Saturday afternoon in New York with a 4-1 decision over the Rangers, becoming the first team in NHL history to start the season 5-0-0 and come from behind to win each game.
This year's squad is also the third team in franchise history to go 5-0-0 to start the season, joining the 1985-86 Oilers who also went 5-0-0 and the 1983-84 team that won seven straight to open their campaign en route to Edmonton's first Stanley Cup.
In order to inch closer to that seven-win squad and make it a half-dozen in a row this year, the Oilers will have to get past a Blackhawks squad that is growing increasingly desperate to secure their first win of 2019-20, as Chicago sits with a 0-2-1 record through three games.
"They'll be a desperate team," said veteran winger James Neal, who leads the NHL with seven goals this season. "They're a highly-skilled team and this is a fun building to play in but also a tough building to play in, so we'll look to end the road trip on the right foot."
The Blackhawks have been tough-luck losers this season, dropping each of their three games by a one-goal margin, including a 3-2 overtime defeat to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night. They played their season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Czech Republic and have returned to the United Center for seven games in a row.
"They started over in Europe, were there a little bit and now they're back," said Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett. "This is a long homestand for them, they recognize this is a big part of their schedule and they have to get going... Hopefully our players recognize what we're up against tonight."
GOALIES IN A GROOVE
One of the many reasons the Oilers have been able to rattle off five wins in a row to start the season is the solid goaltending they've received from both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
The former, inked by Edmonton as a free agent over the summer, turned aside 20 of the 21 shots he faced against the Rangers on Saturday to improve to 3-0-0 on the year with a 2.67 GAA and .907 save percentage.
After Smith secured the team's first two wins of the season, Koskinen stepped in and performed admirably as well, posting victories over the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils to start the road trip.
Smith will start again against the Blackhawks, looking to channel his 2012 playoff performances at United Center for the Tippett-coached Coyotes that saw him go 3-0-0 with an outstanding .963 save percentage as Phoenix advanced in six games.
"Just feel… Every day we talk about it," Tippett said of his goaltending choice. "This has been a good building for him. He had a heck of a playoff series here, so we'll throw him in tonight. Every day you get up and you try to figure out how we're going to win tonight."
Neal is another guy with plenty of prior experience with Smith, as the two were together with the Calgary Flames last season. He said the netminder's competitive nature permeates throughout the locker room.
"He's a great guy and a great goaltender," Neal said. "He's a competitor. He brings that juice and how competitive he is to practice and games every day. He wants to win, he's been great for our room, he's been great for our team and he's been really good on the ice. The key saves he's made in the games that he's played have been really good. He's dialed in and we'll look for another big one out of him tonight."
Smith said that ingrained competitive nature is what has allowed him to stay in the NHL for as long as he has. The 37-year-old added he's enjoying the partnership he's created with Koskinen, who's 2-0-0 with a 2.40 GAA and .914 save percentage.
"I'd like to play all the games if I could," Smith laughed. "That's the mentality I've had for a long time and I think that's what's kept me in the League for a long time. I want to play and be part of the team's success, but saying that, we're a group in here and I'm a big proponent of having two guys that are capable of playing important games.
"Mikko has done an unbelievable job to start the season. I think the goaltending has been real solid for this group and it's a trickle-down effect. A lot of it starts with the back end and how we're carrying ourselves in the net."
Neal echoed those sentiments, saying the strong play of Smith and Koskinen has allowed the position players to excel.
"It gives us a lot of confidence in our game," he said. "They've both been playing great and giving us a chance to win. We wouldn't be where we are right now if it wasn't for them."
SPECIAL TEAMS SOLID
Speaking of significant factors contributing to Edmonton's historic start, both the power play and penalty kill have been among the best in the League.
The Oilers are 7-for-17 with the man advantage for a 41.2% success rate, which is good enough for second in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres at 42.1%. They've also scored a power-play goal in four consecutive games.
"The way we're moving the puck around, the way we're in our spots and the way we can inter-change, I think there's lots of good things there and lots to look forward to," said Neal, who's tallied five of his seven goals this season on the PP.
"It'll continue to get better, but I think we have good confidence in it right now. If one guy is covered, there's going to be another guy open. It's hard for penalty killers to take away all the options. We feel like if we get a chance to score on the PP, we're going to score and we're going to win the game. If you get teams to take a tough penalty and you capitalize on it, that's always a good thing. I like the way we're going this early in the season."
Edmonton's PK also ranks second in the NHL at 94.1%, trailing only the Vegas Golden Knights who have killed 95.5% of their infractions. Coach Tippett said the team's shorthanded staffers have relished their roles, leading to the early success.
"You have people that are really bought in and really taking pride in it," he said. "That makes a good penalty kill. Our D has done a nice job, our goaltending has been solid, we've got forwards out there that know exactly what their role is and what they're supposed to do, and they're taking pride in it."
This is the first of three meetings with the Blackhawks this season. The Oilers defeated the Blackhawks in two of three matches last season.
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid led the Oilers offensively last campaign with four points against Chicago each.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers are coming off a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers, and have won five consecutive games to start the season for the first time since 1985-86. Each of the club's five victories have been come-from-behind wins.
Edmonton is first in the League with 10 points.
Blackhawks team scope:
The Blackhawks are still looking for their first win of the season after dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks in points with one goal and three assists on the season. Oilers 2012 fourth-rounder Erik Gustafsson trails Kane in scoring by one point, having compiled three assists.
By the Numbers:
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are first and second in scoring with 12 and 11 points, respectively. ... James Neal continues to lead the League in goals with seven. ... The Oilers own the second-best power play in the League, clicking at a 41.2 percent rate. ... Edmonton is also second in the League shorthanded, possessing a 94.1 percent killing percentage.
OILERS - Adam Larsson (fractured right fibula) is on IR.