February 25 2013 01:06PM
If you focus on statistical categories heading into tonight's tilt v. the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks it doesn't look good for the Oilers. The Hawks are 15-0-3, they have ice girls, a sold out building and right now they win for fun.
Can the Oilers pull off a major upset?
Logic tells you it is highly unlikely that the Oilers can skate into Chicago and leave with two points.
The Hawks have outscored their opponents 56-32 (I don't include SO goals).
The majority of the game is played five-on-five and the Hawks have 38 GF and 24 GA, meanwhile the Oilers ES scoring woes continue with a league-worst 16 goals, but at least they've only allowed 30 five-on-five. The Hawks are +14 in ES scoring while the Oilers are -14. Ouch.
The Oilers have the 4th most PP goals, 18 on 76 opportunities, but the Hawks PK is 2nd best in the league having allowed only 7 goals on 67 chances.
Teemu Hartikainen has been put on the IR with a shoulder injury and Lennart Petrell has been activated. Smyth has four points in his last four games and he's played much better since being benched. With Taylor Hall sitting out the final game of his two-game suspension it makes sense to put Smyth on the top line. The Oilers need to find a mix that will get them at least two ES scoring lines.
I suspect Paajarvi needs a great game to stay in the top-six past tonight, and lately he's been either highly noticeable or completely invisible. He needs to find some consistency in his game.
Yakupov on the 4th line is a bit of a head scratcher, but Krueger had to mix up his 2nd line. They weren't producing, and they were giving way more scoring chances than they were producing. There is no point putting Yakupov with Belanger, because Belanger has zero offensive confidence right now.
When Hall returns, I wonder if Krueger will mix up his six skilled forwards amongst three lines. The issue is that until Horcoff returns it means two of his skilled guys will have to play with Belanger. Belanger has shown he's a solid 4th line centre, who can kill penalties, but his offensive instincts seemingly have dried up.
I'd look seriously at a Hall-Horcoff-Yakupov combination along with 94-93-14 and 28-89-83. I'm not sure any need to be labeled the 1st, 2nd or 3rd lines, but when the captain returns I'd look at that. You could switch 94 and 28 as well, since Smyth and Hemsky have always played well together.
Interesting how Theo Peckham can't get back in the lineup, despite playing pretty well against Minnesota. Maybe it is as simple as Krueger wanting to stick with the lineup that beat Phoenix. I know Struds is a huge believer in keeping the same lineup after a win. I still don't see what the coaches see in Corey Potter, but they like him.
Khabibulin has played well in every game this year; however, does Devan Dubnyk deserve to sit out an entire week? It is a fine balancing act for Krueger. He wants to win, but he also needs to find out what he has moving forward. The Oilers can't afford to waste another year chasing the playoffs without finding out if Dubnyk is their goalie of the future.
- The Oilers lead the NHL with the most wins when trailing heading into the 3rd period. The Oilers are 4-3-2 when trailing after 40 minutes. That's the good news. The bad news is the Blackhaws are 12-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes.
- The Hawks love fast starts. They've outscored the opposition 41-17 during the first two periods. The Oilers need a good start.
- Ray Emery starts for the Blackhawks. He is 7-0 with a 2.10 GAA and a sparkling .933 SV%. Including tonight he's started 5 of the last 6 games for the Hawks. Corey Crawford shutout the Blue Jackets 1-0 last night, but he'll get the night off.
- Patrick Kane is the only Blackhawk in the top-38 scorers in the NHL. Kane has 23 points in 18 games. Jonathon Toews is tied for 40th with 15 points. The Hawks have 11 players with at least 7 points. They win with balanced scoring.
- “I’ve started to realize that getting hit and taking big body checks doesn’t mean you are tough or playing well, it just means you are being a little stupid and reckless. You can still go to the hard areas, and you can still get a lot of pucks and make a lot of plays without taking a big hit." Taylor Hall told me this and much more in an article about how he's changed his game. You can read the rest here.
- Ryan Whitney will sit out for the 6th time in 18 games. It looks like his time with the Oilers is coming to an end. The debate is whether they can increase his trade value by playing him, or does sitting him keep his value constant. Moving him for a 3rd or 2nd round pick doesn't help them now. I know Whitney hasn't played great this year, but moving him for a pick means they definitely lose the trade now. The pick might, a big might, pan out in four years to salvage a deal, or better yet, they move that pick to another team and acquire a proven NHL player.
- The new line combinations v. Phoenix didn't result in anymore ES goals, but they did generate more chances. It is obvious the Oilers need to mix in some grease and grit with their skilled guys.
- The PP has started to show some life again with four goals in their last 13 chances. Krueger had Smyth and Hartikainen both in front of the net on one unit and it led to the tying goal. The Oilers need more ugly play and less pretty plays on the PP and ES if they hope to start scoring more.
- Good news is that tickets for the Nation 5th Birthday party are going well, the bad news is if you are a procrastinator there are only 50 tickets left. $20 gets you the snazzy limited edition 5th Birthday T-Shirt, a $25 Oodle Noodle GC, a $20 Pint GC, and Labatt swag. We all know you plan on watching Friday's game, so you might as well do it at the Pint Off Whyte, help raise some money for charity and get a sweet Nation T-shirt. click here to buy yours.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Hawks barely beat the lowly Blue Jackets yesterday, so you wonder if their streak is close to ending. The Hawks might be a bit fatigued, and could take the Oilers lightly, but I still don't see the upset. Hawks win 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Eberle scores. He has 15 points in 8 career games v. the Hawks including 5 goals.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Early in the first period Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skates into the Hawks zone, but heinexplicably stops at their blueline. He then takes two hard scrapes with his blade on the bluelinem and then slams his stick into the gap his blade just made. He then dumps the puck in and heads to the bench. After the game he was asked what he was doing on the play. "Last year the blueline cheap-shotted me. It tripped me which sending me flying into the boards and it that cost me the Calder trophy and a huge salary bonus. I can stand up for myself, and I wanted the rest of the league to know they can't cheapshot me."