– 12 nights, six cities, six games and seven flights: the Oilers' marathon road trip is about to come to a close. With a 20-minute morning skate at Chicago's United Center, the orange and blue are primed and prepared to take on the Blackhawks in an effort to end the swing with a 3-3, .500 record.
Following losses to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and an equally skilled Detroit Red Wings squad in a back-to-back set, Head Coach Tom Renney wants to see a more balanced 60-minute attack vs. Chicago.
"We have to play our game," he explained. "I think what's happened, however, is that it vaporizes a little bit on us. We've got to stay with it and understand that if it's nothing-nothing going into the third, that's a good thing. If it's 1-1, that's fine.
"We've got to make sure that we play 60 minutes of hockey, understand who we are and play to our strengths. We want to learn more from winning now." Theo Peckham
, who played 18:05 the other night in Detroit while recording a -1 rating, agreed with his coach's assessment and commented on the team's need to bear down on more high-quality scoring chances.
"I don't think we're too happy with our performance [in Detroit]. The score indicated the game more so than the shot totals (30-24 Red Wings). For us it's about getting those quality scoring chances and not just shooting them in from the outside and keeping the shots close.
"It's about getting more net-drive and being more gritty in front of the net, and getting those nasty goals instead of looking for the pretty plays."
Against a team like the Blackhawks, who have scored 56 goals in 2011-12 to place second in the league's goals-for rankings, it's especially important.
"I think we need to make sure we're doing the simple things right," Peckham added. "Getting pucks out, getting pucks in; I know it's a cliché, but they're also true. It's what you have to do to win in this league." QUEST FOR .500
The Oilers have gone 2-3-0 on the trip so far and have the chance to split the win-loss ratio with a victory in Chicago. The orange and blue are, at the moment, riding a two-game losing skid and are up against one of the NHL's most potent scoring attacks tonight.
"It's a big game," Ryan Jones
said at the Oilers' morning skate. The 27-year-old winger has scored three goals and three assists this season, including one of each on the current trip. "Anytime you can go .500 on the road is usually a success; and especially a road trip like this when you're facing the caliber of the teams that we have on this trip.
"When we started out, .500 wasn't exactly our goal. I think we were aiming a little higher than that, but the situation that we're in right now is something we can't control."
Jones has scored one career goal vs. Chicago in 12 games and has had a good start to the season. With a chance to end the road trip on a strong note, the Chatham, ON native is well prepared for an expected challenge against one of the league's elite teams.
"One thing they do well is that they throw everybody at you," he said. "They'll have guys up on the rush, but at the same time they'll track back quick; you have a lot of back pressure. We have to keep our game simple, put it deep and force their D to play in their own end, and I think we'll have success.
"You're going to see a more simple game from us tonight." WHO'S IN & WHO'S OUT Ben Eager
, who missed Friday's game in Detroit as a scratch, will be re-inserted vs. his former team. The 27-year-old played parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks, scoring 18 goals and 15 assists, while racking up 308 PIM in 144 regular season games.
According to the coach, No. 55 will play for sure, but the player in which he'll replace is still up in the air.
"I've got a game-time decision to make on that," Renney explained. "Ben will play; as to who comes out, I'm not sure yet. We'll see how it goes.
"I've got to make sure people are playing. I don't want guys out too long. We've got a good, young team here and people have to play. The bottom line is that it's not so much about a guy might not be doing on the ice, it's who's out and needing to get them back in."
It's expected that Anton Lander
will be the odd-man out.
Also, Nikolai Khabibulin
, 7-1-2, and his 1.18 goals-against average and .957 save percentage will return to the crease as the 38-year-old veteran gets the start against his ex-team as well.
Khabibulin played four seasons with Chicago, 202 games, posting a 90-80-24 record from 2005-2009. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick