EDMONTON, Alberta — Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins is sensing something with his squad tonight, and it probably has everything to do with the opponent.
“I just sense our guys are excited for tonight,” said Eakins, whose Oilers face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. “They want to play hard and want to try to send a message.”
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The Oilers are feeling better about themselves lately, thanks to a three-game winning streak. And they take some extra confidence knowing they’ve played the Blackhawks well, especially here in Edmonton. Flash back to two seasons ago, when the Oilers beat the Blackhawks twice at Rexall Place, outscoring them 17-6 in the process.
Yes, it was two years ago, but two things haven’t changed regardless of the season: the Oilers always get up for, and are a handful, this game; and the Blackhawks always sense danger with this opponent.
“Part of our problem is we get into a run-and-gun, up-and-down game (with Edmonton). And we know if we stick to the way we play, play a smart game in our own zone, we’ll get our chances eventually,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s one of those teams we have to remind ourselves to make sure we’re playing well in our own end first, then we can go on and make plays and create chances.”
True, the Oilers will take advantage of defensive lapses. So why else has Edmonton, despite some tough seasons, done so well against the Blackhawks?
“It’s hard to say,” said Sam Gagner, who had an eight-point night against Chicago in a February 2012 game. “I guess our style just matches up. They play pretty offensively and have a lot of skill. So do we.”
That, and the added incentive the Blackhawks bring.
“When you play against one of the better teams in the league, you try to match up to them,” Gagner continued. “It’s always an exciting night for us, and hopefully it’s a good one.”
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk has also been playing better, and earned the NHL’s third star of the week for it.
“Obviously when things start the way they did, you think about everything. It’s just about getting back out and forgetting about all that stuff, having fun and playing and just trusting,” Dubnyk said. “That’s been the biggest difference: you just go out and play hockey.”
The Oilers’ winning streak has come against Calgary, Columbus and Florida. Obviously those are three struggling teams, but victories are victories. Still, the Oilers will look at tonight’s game against Chicago as a gauge for where they are.
“We just played them a few weeks ago and we were not great in the first; we were playing shy and safe. But in the second and third I thought we got going and matched them. I’m not saying we outplayed them, but I thought we at least matched them. Even when we maybe weren’t playing our best, we were able to stay close with him,” Eakins said. “We’ve taken a little bit of a step forward. We have a ton of work to do, but it’s always a good measuring stick when you have the Cup champions coming in.”