EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at Rexall Place. Last season, the Oilers were swept in all three games against Chicago, with the Blackhawks scoring five goals in each.
“I’m sure it’s going to be very humbling,” Oilers winger Jesse Joensuu said of the challenge. “They’re a good team, we’ve got to really respect that, play desperate and play really good defensive hockey and try to win this game 1-0 or 2-1 instead of trying to get in a scoring battle against them.”
The Oilers were forced to once again tinker with their lineup after winger Benoit Pouliot broke his foot last night against New Jersey.
David Perron will elevate to the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“He’s definitely a guy that can finish,” Head Coach Dallas Eakins said of Perron. “Nuge can distribute the puck, Ebs is probably more of a pass-first guy as well so we’re hoping that David can pull the trigger there, so to say. The other thing is he gives us a level of battle there too. His skill set should work well with those guys.”
They Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell line remains intact. Jesse Joensuu jumps back into the lineup with Mark Arcobello and Nail Yakupov.
“I’m going to play with Arco and Yak so I’ve got to win pucks for them, win some battles in the corner and bring some energy,” Joensuu said of his return to game action.
Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto round out the forward lineup.
AULIE IN, NIKITIN OUT
Defenceman Nikita Nikitin will be scratched tonight when the Oilers play the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran has struggled recently and, after last night’s game, the team decided to pull him out and let him reset.
“The game last night,” Eakins said. “He had a rough night and the decision is never easy and the decision is never fun for the player either.”
The Oilers have no doubts that this move will benefit Nikitin.
“I’m confident that he’ll rebound,” Eakins said. “I can’t remember guys who don’t. They usually kind of reset themselves and it’s amazing how coming out of the lineup will refocus you a little bit. I think it’s always best to try and work through it and try to get the guy to play through it. We’re to a spot now where he just went too far. He’s a veteran guy. He’s an extremely hardworking guy, he’s a very tough, tough man and he’ll rebound out of this.”
Keith Aulie will enter the game for Nikitin.
FIXING THE POWER PLAY
The Oilers power play ranks 26th in the NHL at 13.4%. The team worked on it today and practice, with the focus on putting more shots on net.
“We’re not getting many shots generated to the net,” Perron said. “I think earlier on we weren’t getting much traffic and that’s something we corrected. We have to get pucks there and use the high ice and get some shots.”
Getting more shots on net and scoring more goals with the man advantage comes down to execution for the Oilers.
“You’ve got to execute,” Eakins said. “There has to be execution, and we have guys on both units that should be able to execute. Once again, it comes down to simplicity. If you go pull up the power play goals from every night, it’s so simple how they’re going about it. Early on, we really liked our power play. We were generating the chances that we want, we were generating the shots, we were getting the shot volume that we wanted and the finish just wasn’t there. We were hitting posts, we were hitting crossbars, so that’s when you breathe on it.”
QUICK NOTES: Oilers winger Taylor Hall has 19 points (8-11-19) in 13 career games against Chicago. Hall is one away from 100 career NHL goals. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one assist away from 100 in his career. Teddy Purcell leads the Oilers in power play points with four (2-2-4). Chicago’s Patrick Kane has 34 points (10-24-34) in 26 games against the Oilers. The Blackhawk’s goal differential (+16) is the best in the Western Conference.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
BLACKHAWKS (11-7-1) at OILERS (6-12-2)
TV: CBC, TVA SPORTS 2, WGN
Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks swept three games from the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14, scoring five goals in each. Chicago has won the past four games against the Oilers, including its past two visits to Rexall Place.
Blackhawks team scope: This is the second game of the annual "Circus Trip." The Blackhawks got off to a good start Thursday when Patrick Kane scored in the third period to give Chicago a 4-3 victory against the Calgary Flames. Chicago called up center Phillip Danault, their first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2011 NHL Draft, from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Friday; he's expected to make his NHL debut in place of center Andrew Shaw (upper body). Coach Joel Quenneville said Shaw could return Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks, according to the Chicago Tribune. Antti Raanta, who hasn't played an NHL game since late October, is scheduled to start in goal.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton has yet to beat a Western Conference team (0-9-1), and they weren't impressive against a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team Friday, losing 2-0 to the New Jersey Devils at Rexall Place. It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Oilers, who are 0-3-1 on a homestand that ends Saturday. The Devils took advantage of a couple of mistakes to score twice in the second period, and the Oilers didn't generate much offense against the tight-checking Devils. "What we can control is our desperation and our gamesmanship," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "The mistakes we made tonight simply can't happen." Edmonton also lost forward Benoit Pouliot, who left in the second period after he blocked a shot against New Jersey; the Oilers said he's out indefinitely with a broken foot. Goaltender Viktor Fasth made 24 saves against the Devils; Ben Scrivens could get the call against Chicago.