- Winless in three games to start this seven-game road trip, the Edmonton Oilers face a stiff test tonight in Chicago when they face a Blackhawks team that not only has the League's best record but also is in the mood for some revenge.
Last time these two teams met, the Oilers throttled the Blackhawks to the tune of 9-2 at Rexall Place. Chicago is determined to not have that happen again and Oilers head coach Tom Renney says that's a good thing.
"Let's go right to the acid test. If we're going to grow up and be a competitive team we have to take responsibility for our performance, when they're good and bad," stated the head coach.
"We had a strong game against these guys last time we saw them and we know that they're way better than a seven-goal spread. We're going to have to bring our A game from top to bottom tonight."
Last time the Oilers played the Blackhawks they went with some very different line combinations -- combos that Renney hinted could be used again tonight.
"We're looking at that," Renney said of using the same lines as November 19. "I think that's a good possibility. We want a good balance to our lineup too, I guess you could call it road balance."
In that game, the Oilers went with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
alongside Jordan Eberle
and Ryan Smyth
as the top line. Sam Gagner
skated with Ales Hemsky
and Taylor Hall
on the second unit. The third line was Anton Lander
, Shawn Horcoff
and Ryan Jones
"We want to roll four and push the pace ourselves to a responsible two-way game. We also want to look at the offence we were able to create the last time we played these guys." Taylor Hall
agreed that the team needs to be at its best to better the Blackhawks tonight.
"It's been quite some time since then but I'm sure they haven't forgot. We've been beaten like that by teams and we certainly don't forget," he said.
There was some discussion in the Blackhawks room about the Oilers running up the score on that night, but Hall was adamant that wasn't the case.
"There was no conversation about going for 10 or anything. I could hear the fans chanting 'we want 10' which was interesting because I was hearing from the guys that in the previous couple of years when Chicago was beating them with 9 goals the fans were also chanting the same thing," he said, adding "we didn't want to develop bad habits." HARTIKAINEN ARRIVES
With the arrival of Teemu Hartikainen
, who missed the morning skate but got to the team's hotel around 1:00 p.m., the fourth line will obviously be different from that 9-2 win against the 'Hawks in November. Hartikainen is likely to play with Ben Eager
and Eric Belanger
"He's a type of player who can probably play one through four. As long as he does what he does well for us. He's a heavy body, goes to the net well and he's a feisty guy," said Renney when asked what could be expected of the Finnish winger tonight.
Hartikainen was strong down the stretch last season for the Oilers, picking up three goals and five points in 12 games. However, coach Renney said it wasn't too difficult a decision to send him back to OKC at the end of training camp for some more seasoning.
"I thought he needed to be better coming out of camp. I thought he just missed it. He needed to be a little bit better and he probably would have gave himself a chance," Renney began. "I thought to myself at training camp, I did have higher expectations for him -- not from a scoring perspective -- just the wherewithal to play hard under all circumstances for a guy who was really trying to crack the lineup. He left me kind of hanging a little bit."
After missing a month due to injury, Hartikainen finally returned to action with the Barons on December 27. He has picked up two assists in four games since his return -- one in each of the last two games he's played. DUBNYK GOES AGAIN
Despite what Renney offered up as a sub-standard performance on New Year's Eve against the Islanders, the head coach has decided to go with Devan Dubnyk
once again tonight against the Blackhawks.
"He wasn't strong to start with (against the Islanders) and sometimes you've got to give a guy the opportunity to bounce back," Renney said. "It's a function of a guy who can clearly play the position and play it well. He needs to know that as well as skaters, goalies too should get a second chance."
This will be Dubnyk's first game of the season against Chicago with Khabibulin having played the previous two outings. JONES SORE BUT READY
Near the end of Saturday's game, Ryan Jones
took a shot off the ankle and limped off the ice causing some concern that he may miss some action but when x-rays came back negative, Jones was good to go.
"It's sore, obviously, but lucky enough it's not in a place where I push off in my skating stride. It's one of those things where if it's not going to do anymore damage no sense sitting out."
Jones has 12 goals in 37 games for the Oilers, having not missed a game this season so far. -- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com