The Oilers are set to host Chicago on Saturday, a game in which they are favoured despite a considerably depleted lineup. The Oilers lead the Western Conference at 12-4-0, including a sterling 7-1-0 home record.
Meanwhile Chicago is on something of a post-head-coaching-change winning streak, but still sits at just 5-9-2 on the year.
Stuart Skinner gets his 2nd straight start in net after a spectacular performance in the Oilers win against the Jets on Thursday, while the Hawks counter with Kevin Lankinen in goal, as they play tomorrow night in Vancouver.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Veterans delivering. With many less experienced players in the lineup offering a sense of mystery, the Oilers will need their established players to set the tone tonight.
- Play through, not down to the opponent, given the statistical discrepancies between the clubs. Granted both Detroit and Buffalo have stronger records than Chicago, but we’ve seen the Oilers fall short against weaker opponents. Chicago still has enough offensive talent to punish lapses in play.
- Penalty killing. One of the few areas in which Chicago has been performing well this season, sitting 8th in efficiency at 86%. The Oilers power play is top of mind for every opponent given its strength.
- Expose inexperience. Somehow, perhaps through the forecheck or off the rush, the Hawks can capitalize on errors with key regulars missing for the Oilers on the blueline and in net.
Edmonton: Nurse and Koekkoek were put on IR Friday, Derek Ryan remains out.
Chicago: Brandon Hagel and Caleb Jones work back from injury and are expected to be out again tonight.
de Haan-S. Jones
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: Up front nothing is expected to change since last game, which is good news for Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson. McLeod has looked strong in this spot both in his level and style of play, with early defensive returns centring the 3rd line. It would be nice to see Tyler Benson have a strong game and/or get on the scoreboard, and start to challenge and pass some of the players above him on the depth chart. If this duo can start to emerge as credible 3rd line forwards it would all but keep the Oilers from having to acquire forward depth at the trade deadline.
The blueline is where things really start to get interesting. Of course, Duncan Keith faces off against his former team and will likely see more ice time than usual. It is 100% editorializing on my part listing Russel-Bouchard as the first pair, but especially with Russel’s steady presence I’m not expecting Evan Bouchard to be any less effective than usual. In this stretch without Nurse it’s likely we’ll see him further cement his place as the Oilers #2 defenceman.
Finally, the piece de resistance is seeing Philip Broberg in his debut NHL appearance. The 2019 8th overall pick has been a force with AHL Bakersfield this year, and has a plethora of visible NHL traits including skating, strength, size, passing, and puck skills. Nothing is certain, but Broberg’s future looks bright, and tonight we will get a glimpse at where his game is right now. His pairing with Barrie might suggest that he will be deferring some of the puck moving responsibility and focusing on being conservative, but I hope we see him show confidence and command to go along with the poise, so that he can display his prowess on both ends. The young D was an early arrival at training camp and spent a lot of time with the Oilers stars, so it’s likely he has the confidence in himself to rise to the moment.
Chicago: In an offseason filled with high priced moves that saw Chicago add Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Hawks have no doubt fallen on their face early. This group should be playing with a lot of urgency, as duplicating their last 16 game stretch would almost take them out of contention before the season’s half-way point. That being said, their roster looks like it should be a bit stronger than it’s shown, especially up front.
Kirby Dach, already in his 3rd season, is still coming into his own, and has a great chance to rise to the status of a 1C beside these strong offensive wingers. It’s clear that Chicago has some strong scouting in Central Europe, and Dominik Kubalik is a prime example of this. He’s got strong shooting skills and serves as an obvious trigger man on a line that includes former Oiler Jujhar Khaira. That Borgstrom-Strome-Gaudette line is of note because all 3 are at inflection points in their careers, as they could be in danger of fading from NHL relevance if they aren’t helping the Hawks turn their season around. Much like the rest of the Chicago lineup the raw skills are there, but can they apply them enough to be effective?
The blueline was a talking point in the offseason, in large part thanks to the polarized viewpoints on Seth Jones, and so far it looks as though the Oilers own $9.5 million defender Darnell Nurse was a far better investment. That being said, the rest of the Hawks top 4 leaves a bit to be desired. I’ve liked the bits of Riley Stillman as a depth defender, partnered with a puck moving, offensive D that Chicago needs in Erik Gustafsson, who has struggled to find much trust from his coaches in his 3 NHL stops since leaving Chicago in 19-20.
***TRIGGER WARNING: Content relative to Canadian Residential Schools.
National Residential School Crisis Line:
I would personally like to take this space to touch on a few macroscopic topics regarding the Chicago hockey team and our culture as a whole. I think they should change their logo, and it’s becoming less and less of a secret that more people are starting to understand that truth. Fans in Chicago have long been holding demonstrations against its use, not to mention the Portland Winterhawks recently changed their logo, which had previously been a Hawks clone.
If you aren’t sure about why others might have this opinion I would direct you to the #notyourmascot discourse. If you have any rebuttals regarding the franchise’s specific circumstances for one reason or another I’d ask you to notice how many minor hockey teams use a clone of this logo, and how that illustrates the NHL’s effect on hockey culture as a whole. At the end of the day this is just a logo, just a game, and it’s so much more productive to build a new and better future together than refusing to admit when something is wrong.
Ultimately these issues go much deeper than pop iconography, but like an ecosystem, all parts of a conversation influence the whole and how we interact with it. From several incidents in the Oilers Fandom’s recent past, no matter how small of a vocal minority it might be coming from, it’s clear that issues of racism are still a part of today’s society, not to mention the ongoing developments in the story of the genocidal residential school system in Canada, and the continued illegal seizures of Wet’suwet’en lands by the Canadian Government (among other land seizures across the country), no less to build a pipeline while climate disasters have been raging on the West Coast.
Sports are inherently political, as many smarter than I have said before, and tonight while watching Hockey Night in Canada, as the anthems play, as the teams face off in an arena filled with Chicago jerseys, I won’t be able to help myself from questioning what messages are being sent by the sport I love, the teams I don’t, the country I live in, the planet I live on, and my place in all of it.