November 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers celebrate the goal scored by centerLeon Draisaitl
(29) against Los Angeles Kings in the second period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday: Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers, 8:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
Oh, Edmonton. Things were just starting to look up (as up as they can for the Oilers), and then Connor McDavid suffered the same injury as Kane did last season, a broken clavicle. Hopefully McDavid heals up as quickly as Kane did. He brings a lot of excitement to the league and to an Oilers team that could certainly use it. Especially since they are, once again, in their division’s cellar.
Edmonton is tied with Columbus for the fewest points in the league with 12 after a 6-12-0 start. The Oilers have scored just two fewer goals than the Blackhawks in the same number of games, but the defense and goaltending has been putrid in Alberta. After prying Cam Talbot away from the New York Rangers in the offseason, the Oilers thought they had their goaltender of the future. Instead, he’s been essentially splitting starts with brief former Blackhawk Anders Nilsson. Talbot has an 3-8-0/.890/3.09 statline, while Nilsson is at 3-4-0/.902/3.21. Finding someone to stop opponents’ shots has been the primary challenge for Edmonton, something the Blackhawks could certainly exploit.
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But challenge No. 2 has been the defensive group, which has some potential but just isn’t real great right now. Andrej Sekera is being asked to serve as the team’s top guy, and he just shouldn’t be in that role for any NHL club. Darnell Nurse (20 years old), Griffin Reinhart (21) and Oscar Klefbom (22) all have high ceilings (on paper), but the Oilers are asking all three to be key contributors well before they’re ready to do so at the NHL level. Combine that with Mark Fayne and Eric Gryba, and you can see part of the reason the goaltenders have struggled.
On the bright side, the Oilers have a bevy of scoring options, even with McDavid out. Taylor Hall is still a stud, as is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nail Yakupov was benefiting greatly from playing alongside McDavid, but his game seems revitalized from their short time together. Leon Draisaitl has taken the 1C spot by the horns of late and is third on the team with 13 points in just eight games. Jordan Eberle is coming off an injury and will start to make a bigger impact soon, while Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell are capable forwards. This is also one of the fastest forward groups in the NHL, which makes for fun matchups with the Blackhawks.
Nov 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Calgary Flames goalieKarri Ramo
(31) makes a save on Chicago Blackhawks centerArtem Anisimov
(15) as Calgary Flames defensemanDeryk Engelland
(29) defends during the third period at the United Center. The Hawks won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Friday: Chicago Blackhawks at Calgary Flames, 8 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
We just saw these guys last night, so I’ll try to be brief. The Flames, like the Oilers, haven’t been very good so far this season thanks in large part to shoddy goaltending. The Flames are just a point better than the Oilers, but with an extra game played. This team wasn’t built to make the playoffs last season, but it did, and so the Calgary front office acted as though it was just a piece (Michael Frolik) or two away from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final. This couldn’t have been more off base.
The Flames have no depth scoring (that’s saying a lot coming from a Blackhawks fan right now), their defense is just so-so and their goaltending … woof. Karri Ramo went last night and was really serviceable outside a two-minute stretch in the second, stopping 37 of 40 shots (would’ve been hard for him to stop the empty-netter). But that’s been more of an anomaly this season. Ramo has the best numbers of the three goaltenders the team has used at 4-7-0/.898/3.34. Again, those are the best numbers they’ve seen. I probably don’t need to go into detail on how bad the now-injured Jonas Hiller and backup Joni Ortio have been.
Even with Joel Quenneville not dictating matchups, the Blackhawks should still fare just fine against a two-line team with little defense and no goaltending. Just keep firing pucks at the net, boys.
Nov 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs centerNazem Kadri
(43) tangles with Vancouver Canucks right wingDerek Dorsett
(15) after the play at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Canucks 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday: Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver Canucks, 9 p.m. (WGN)
A 9 p.m. Saturday start on WGN … alright. On the second half of a back-to-back, Crawford may get the call for the second game and give Darling another go at the Flames. Vancouver was expected by some (this writer included) to be the worst team in the Pacific this season. The Canucks’ championship window is closed, they’re still getting used to second-year coach Willie Desjardins and they seem confused as to how they’re supposed to proceed on the ice, probably due to their surprising playoff appearance last season.
Vancouver has somewhat overachieved early on, posting 19 points in 18 games. Of course, in the embarrassing Pacific, that’s good for a share of second place. The Sedins still lead this outfit, with Daniel Sedin‘s 16 points pacing the team and Henrik Sedin‘s 13 good for second. Hair-puller Alexandre Burrows is still here, as are constant irritants Radim Vrbata and Jannik Hansen. There’s all kinds of players opponents would like to punch in the face as well in Brandon Prust, Derek Dorsett, Adam Cracknell and Chris Higgins. This group has very balanced scoring so far, with all but one player who has suited up for at least a game garnering at least one point.
The defense is something to be laughed at, considering Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev are used as the top pair and Dan Hamhuis is part of the second. “Very exploitable” would be the phrase I’d use to describe the unit, though the Canucks have allowed just two more goals (46) than the Blackhawks in the same number of games.
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Not much of that has to do with Olympian For Life Ryan Miller, who has a bizarre 5-6-5 mark with a .912 save percentage and 2.48 goals-allowed average. Safe to say 3-on-3 hockey has not treated Mr. Miller kindly.
So, how should the Blackhawks fare on the first half of their circus trip? They should honestly win all three games, even with a back-to-back thrown in. These are weak opponents, and the Blackhawks would do well to take care of them with San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles on the back end of the trip (aw, we miss Phoenix?). By putting a ton of shots on net and not stooping down to their opponents’ level of play, the Blackhawks can earn the maximum number of points this week, and it should be the only goal.