EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers have a tough test ahead for them on Friday night as they host the Western Conference’s third place Chicago Blackhawks. The last time these two teams met, Chicago took the 7-1 victory on November 22.
Last night, Chicago withstood 44 shots, including 37 in the final two periods, to beat Minnesota 4-2.
“They’re a very good hockey team, experienced hockey team, they’re never out of a game,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “Last night they found a way to win. It’s a hockey team that we have to play a full 60 minutes, even 65 if it takes it, just because they’ve got a lot of experience and they pay the game the right way. They’ve got a lot of experience and they know that if they play the game the right way they’re always going to have a chance to win.”
Chicago’s skill is well known. They have nine players with over 20 points on the season. Patrick Kane leads the team in scoring with 45 points (20-25-45).
“They’re a highly skilled team, they’re a very experienced team,” Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry said. “Their top two lines for sure have a lot of skill. I think for us, we can’t get away from our system based on who we’re playing. If we stick to the system that has been put in place for us, I think we can compete with anyone in the league.”
SEARCHING FOR CONSISTENCY
The Oilers have been more competitive in games as of late. They had points in four straight before a 4-2 loss to Detroit in their last game, and in that one they had tied it late. Heading into the second half of the season, the Oilers are hoping to find a certain level of consistency.
More wins obviously, and more consistency,” Captain Andrew Ference said. “First half, second half, middle half, it doesn’t really matter where you are. Every game, you’re getting prepared to get better as a team and you’re working on the same kind of things. Obviously, the results weren’t there in the first half.”
Consistency begins with good practice habits, said several players.
“It starts with the practices,” Oscar Klefbom said. “You have to be good out there every day. It feels like we have something really good going on right now with the team and we have a really good atmosphere in here. We just have to keep pushing ourselves in practice and the result will come for sure.”
Petry added, “I think it’s a combination of practice habits and when you get into a game, you’ve got to rely on it no matter what the situation is. Whether it’s a 0-0 game, you’re up or you’re down. It’s a matter of just believing in it and sticking with it for a full 60 minutes.”
Nelson also added that he hopes to see marked improvement in all phases of the Oilers team game over the last half of the season.
“I think the most important thing is seeing improvement with the team, with the way that we play,” Nelson said. “With that, good results will happen. We want to focus on doing the right things out there as a group and there are a lot of different things we can point our finger at. The 5-on-5 play, we want to get better at. The forechecking system, with managing the puck and creating offence. But then also, special teams are so key. You saw us working on that today and we have to get better in both areas. We want to see improvement in all aspects of the game.”
The Oilers have scored first in four of their last five games and seven of their last 10. Fast starts are key to good results, and with the Blackhawks having played last night it may be even more important to get on the board early.
“We want to get off to a good start regardless, but it’s important tonight against this hockey team,” Nelson said. “We’ve got to make it tough on them early through forechecking hard, managing the puck and moving our feet. We want to play a full 60 minutes but definitely the start is really important.”
There seem to be a few more smiles on the ice at Oilers practices. Seeing results in recent games has helped change the mood a bit in the locker room and on the bench.
“It’s good. The feeling with the team, the atmosphere in here is good,” Klefbom said. “We have a lot of happiness and the boys feel good. It feels like we’re in good shape. We’ve played some good games against really good teams and we’ve got to take it from there and hopefully get a good win tonight.”
Petry added to that, saying that even in losses the Oilers have competed.
“We’ve gotten points in some of our last games,” Petry said. “We’ve competed hard in those games that we’ve lost and I think it’s just a matter of we were in those games and had opportunities that we could have taken and gotten the win. I think that’s something that when we get into those positions we have to bear down and compete for the full 60 minutes then we’ll get more wins that way.”
QUICK NOTES: The Oilers are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games against Chicago, but are looking for their first win at Rexall Place since 2012. Ben Scrivens has started nine of the Oilers last 11 games, and has a save percentage of .933 and GAA of 1.99 in his last five. Boyd Gordon is one assist away from his 100th in his career. The Blackhawks have allowed a league-best 2.15 goals per game. Chicago boasts the best goal differential in the league at +39.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
BLACKHAWKS (27-12-2) AT OILERS (9-23-9)
TV: CSN, SNW
Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks overwhelmed the Edmonton Oilers in their first visit to Rexall Place this season. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored two goals and right wing Marian Hossa scored a goal and had three assists.
Blackhawks team scope: Chicago ended a dubious streak in a 4-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday: The Blackhawks scored first to end a string of six games in which they had allowed the first goal. Each of Chicago's goals Thursday was scored by a forward who's been hot. Patrick Kane has nine points (four goals) in his past six games, Bryan Bickell scored twice and has four goals in five games, and Patrick Sharp has 12 points (seven goals) in 14 games. They won despite being outshot 44-20, in contrast to a 2-0 home loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in which they had a 54-24 advantage in shots. Corey Crawford made 42 saves against the Wild in his seventh consecutive start; backup goalie Antti Raanta could give him a night off in the second half of a back-to-back.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton lost to the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 at home Tuesday, but it was the first loss in regulation in the five games the Oilers have played under interim coach Todd Nelson. The Oilers, who got two goals from Jordan Eberle against Detroit, are still last in the overall standings but appear to have renewed motivation since the departure of former coach Dallas Eakins in mid-December. Nelson has made some changes to the Oilers' forechecking system to try to generate more offense. "I think we're a little bit more aggressive with our system play right now and I think that helps us out," center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said, according to the Oilers website. "We're a fast team and we get to use that speed, using a really aggressive forecheck and having our [defense] pinch down. Ben Scrivens has started eight of the Oilers' past 11 games and could play after Viktor Fasth made 37 saves against Detroit.