CHICAGO, IL - Today marks the start of the Oilers longest road trip of 2016-17. Six games are spread out over the next 11 days. Edmonton has stops in Chicago, Tampa, Sunrise, Washington D.C., Nashville and St. Louis.
"This trip is going to be taxing," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "It's going to be a tough trip. We play quality teams. The level of play this time of the year goes way up because teams are getting very desperate, players have a tendency to pick their play up around trade deadline - for a number of different reasons. We'll be challenged, and I'm looking forward to seeing how our team responds."
Having a good trip is key to the Oilers post-season hopes, as they head into the stretch drive.
"We're on the road for the rest of February and that takes us into the home stretch basically," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. "We (could) set ourselves up well heading into March if we have a good road trip here."
Edmonton's first game of the trip is in Chicago against the well-rested Blackhawks, who are coming off their bye week. Their last game was a 5-1 win over the Oilers in Edmonton back on February 11.
A TEAM TO EMULATE
The Blackhawks three Stanley Cup wins since 2010 speak for themselves. When it comes to searching for a team to look up to or want to be like, look no further than Chicago.
"They've done nothing but win. I think we can learn a lot from a team like this," said McDavid.
"They certainly have done a good job and their three Cups prove it," said McLellan. "Once you start winning like that on a regular basis and you turn your team over as Stan has here, it shows you have depth, you have good coaching, you have great leadership, you have tremendous players and obviously great ownership."
As the Oilers continue their path as a growing team on the rise, Chicago provides at least part of the blueprint to follow.
"We have a lot of those things in place, I believe, in Edmonton," said McLellan. "We've just got to get rolling and get winning. They are a model franchise for a number of teams in the League that would like to emulate what they've done."
The Oilers did not hold a morning skate, but we expect the lineup to be relatively unchanged from their two straight victories, in which Edmonton outscored those opponents 11-5.
McLellan and his staff shuffled the lines ahead of this recent run and it appears to be paying off. One change was moving Leon Draisaitl off McDavid's wing and putting Jordan Eberle there.
"It's been good," said McDavid. "We've been getting balanced scoring, which is what I think we were looking for. We've found a way to create some offence after going a little bit dry there before the break and a little bit after. It's good to be able to create a little offence and get rewarded for it."
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (31-19-8) at BLACKHAWKS (35-17-5)
TV: 5:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet
Tonight's game marks the third and final meeting between the Oilers and Blackhawks this season and the lone game in Chicago. The last time these teams faced each other in Chicago was on December 17th, 2015, where Chicago shut out Edmonton 4-0.
The last time these teams met was one week ago on February 11th in Edmonton, when the Blackhawks topped the Oilers 5-1. The Oilers and Blackhawks have split the season series thus far, with Edmonton shutting out Chicago 5-0 on November 21st, 2016.
Oilers team scope:
After losing to the Blackhawks last Saturday coming off their bye week, the Oilers had two big wins this past week. On Tuesday, they defeated Arizona 5-2 and on Thursday, they won 6-3 over Philadelphia.
The Oilers are tied with Anaheim for second place in the Pacific Division with 70 points, four points behind San Jose for top spot. The 31 wins and 70 points match the team's totals from all of last season.
With a goal and two assists in a 6-3 win over Philadelphia on Feb, 16. 2017, Connor McDavid now as a two-point lead on Sidney Crosby (PIT) and five-point lead on Brent Burns (SJ) for the league lead in scoring with 66 points (19G, 47A) in 58 games. McDavid has led the league in scoring at some point in all four months of the 2016-17 season. He has led or co-led the NHL in scoring since Nov. 22, 2016.
McDavid now has 20 multi-point games this season, for most in the NHL, one on Brent Burns (SJ) and two more than Sidney Crosby (PIT). McDavid has had three points in a game on eight occasions.
Klefbom posted a goal last game against the Flyers and now has four points in his last two games.
He posted three points against Arizona earlier in the week and now has 24 points (10G, 14A), beating his career best point output from 2014-15. Klefbom's 10 goals this season also mark's a career-best.
Blackhawks team scope:
Much like the Oilers last Saturday, this time it's the Blackhawks who are coming off a break. Chicago hasn't played a game since defeating the Oilers 5-1 at Rogers Place last Saturday.
NHL teams coming off the bye week are 3-10-1 this season. However, the Blackhawks went into the bye week red hot with five straight victories.
The 'Hawks are second in the Central Division, seven points behind the first place Minnesota Wild. At 75 points, Chicago has the second-best record in the Western Conference and are tied with NY Rangers for the sixth-best record in the entire NHL.
Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 58 points (19 goals) in 57 games this season. Second on the team is Artemi Panarin, who has 19 goals and 51 points in 57 contests.
Kane has 13 goals and 46 points in 33 games against the Oilers while Panarin has four goals and seven points in five career games versus Edmonton.
Defenceman Duncan Keith has 40 points in 57 games to rank third on the team in scoring, tied with Artem Anisimov. He also ranks fifth in the entire NHL among blueliners. Keith has eight goals and 28 points in 41 career games against Edmonton.