EDMONTON – Welcome to Rexall Place, the part-time House of Horrors for the Chicago Blackhawks.
We say part-time because they’ve had some big victories in this building, too. Last April, the Blackhawks claimed the Presidents’ Trophy with a victory here. Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick against the Oilers here in November of 2010. But, there’s always the danger in the Oilers, who are young and speedy and just itching to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Ok, we’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Here are Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Oilers-Blackhawks game.
1. Defense first, offense second: yes, it’s a simple mantra to follow but it’s once the Blackhawks have forgotten against the Oilers in past lopsided losses. The Oilers are an opportunistic bunch if you give them the chances. Toews said it this morning: “If we stick to the way we play, with a smart game in our own zone, we’ll get chances eventually.”
2. Pick on the Oilers’ penalty kill. The Oilers’ kill actually isn’t that bad – 14th overall in the league, compared to 29th for the Blackhawks. But coach Dallas Eakins said the team has one big problem on it: clearing. “When we’ve had the puck on our stick, we seem to find a way where a guy knocks it down or it hits a leg or we fan on it. Now it stays in, you’re tired and now you’re in trouble.” Since the Blackhawks’ power play is still humming (11th in the NHL, 4th-best on the road), they’ll want to add to the Oilers’ clearing issues.
3. Keep the opposition’s shots low. Yes, we get it: Corey Crawford doesn’t mind the work. Good thing, because he keeps getting it. But considering he had to stop 36 of 37 shots two nights ago, the Blackhawks will want to limit the shots against the Oilers. Well, that and that Sam Gagner guy… .
4. Who shall click tonight? We were wrong on Patrick Sharp the other night, so we have to redeem ourselves. Going with a defenseman here, be it points or all-around game: Niklas Hjalmarsson.
5. Watch Edmonton try to stifle Patrick Kane. Eakins doesn’t get why so many teams give Kane time and space. It’s a good point: we’ve seen what he does when he gets both. Look for the Oilers to do the exact opposite to try and stop Kane’s 10-game point streak.