Blackhawks Buzz: Jan. 12, 2014 vs. Edmonton Oilers
Here's how the Blackhawks fared against the Oilers the last five times they clashed at the United Center: 5-4 win (Nov. 10, 2013), 6-5 loss (March 10, 2013), 3-2 overtime win (Feb. 25, 2013), 4-3 loss (Jan. 2, 2012) and 6-3 win (Nov. 13, 2011). Needless to say, these tend to be unpredictable and often free-scoring affairs that hearken back to the high-octane battles these two sides pitched in the 1980s. If the trend continues, fans can expect a fast-paced and entertaining contest from puck drop to the ending horn.
After an explosive December, things have quieted down on the offensive front for the Blackhawks, who have scored more than two goals in just one of their last six games. Teams across the league have followed through on their New Year's resolutions to batten down their defensive hatches, leading to tightly fought contests and one-goal decisions. Six of Chicago's last seven games have been decided by the slimmest of margins, while four have gone to overtime or a shootout. And that's where the Blackhawks have faltered most noticeably this season, going 0-4 in overtime decisions and 4-6 in the shootout. As a team's ROW (regulation or overtime win) serves as a tiebreaker in the NHL's playoff seeding process, gaining two points in 65 minutes or less tonight could have important ramifications in the near future.
With Head Coach Joel Quenneville experimenting with line combinations over the last couple of games, one unit has remained unchanged: the top trio of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Hossa tallied Chicago's lone goal in last night's 2-1 loss at Montreal, with his linemates picking up the helpers. With those points, Toews (1G, 5A) and Sharp (3G, 4A) both extended their point streaks to five games, and their line will need to lead the Blackhawks offensively as they try to resume their torrid scoring pace from 2013.
The Oilers' last outing was a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, a come-from-behind effort powered by Ryan Nugent Hopkins (2G, 1A), Taylor Hall (1G) and Jordan Eberle (2A). That's been par for the course—Edmonton's "Kid Line" (average age: 22.2 years) has carried them this season, pacing the team in point production and accounting for 35 percent of Edmonton's total offense. Needless to say, the Blackhawks' shutdown players will have their hands full trying to keep these young guns off the scoresheet.
The Blackhawks lead the travel-heavy Western Conference with 18 back-to-back assignments this season, but if the quick turnarounds are taking a toll, it hasn't shown in their record: Chicago is 7-3-2 in the first game of a back-to-back series and can improve their 8-0-3 mark in the second contest tonight. Tonight's tilt also kicks off a four-game homestand for the Blackhawks, their longest uninterrupted stay at the United Center, where they are 15-3-6 this season. Edmonton, on the other hand, is embarking on a four-game road trip, and they have not fared well away from home, sporting a 7-15-3 record that ranks second-from-last in the league.
The Oilers have been disappointing this season despite the best efforts of a young and talented core, but they arrive in town buoyed by a tenacious win over Pittsburgh on Friday, and their forwards know how to put the puck in the net. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are looking for a confident start after two straight losses with lackluster opening periods. They hope Edmonton's struggling defense and below-average goaltending can open the floodgates for an offense that has scored more than two goals just once in their last six games.