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3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Against Alberta’s Boys

By Colin Likas
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What are the Edmonton Oilers? We’ll get a little closer to answering that question tonight as they visit the United Center to conclude their season series with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks took the previous two games, 4-2 in Chicago on Nov. 8 and 4-3 in overtime in Edmonton on Nov. 18. The Blackhawks didn’t look particularly good in that second game, so hopefully they come out with a little more concern tonight.

I ask what the Edmonton Oilers are because of their current standing in the interesting yet terrible Pacific Division. After spending a brief spell in third place — AKA a playoff spot — the Oilers were shoved back down to fifth after seeing their six-game win streak end. Still, they have the same number of points (30) as third-place Arizona, fourth-place Calgary and sixth-place Vancouver, and they’re a point behind second-place San Jose. Does this really mean anything as far as how good Edmonton is as a team? Probably not, but they’ll at least have some confidence rolling into this game.

It’s something the Blackhawks should look out for, as they were soundly shut down by the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. The game saw the end of Patrick Kane‘s consecutive-games-with-a-point streak, so we can get back to focusing on wins, losses and points.

Let’s look at the projected lineups for tonight, starting with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Teuvo TeravainenJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Artemi PanarinArtem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Bryan BickellDennis RasmussenAndrew Shaw

Andrew DesjardinsMarcus KrugerRyan Garbutt

Trevor van RiemsdykDuncan Keith

Niklas HjalmarssonBrent Seabrook

Michal RozsivalRob Scuderi

Corey CrawfordScott Darling

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It appears Brandon Mashinter will take a seat in favor of Garbutt, as Mashinter was holding Hossa’s spot on the top line during the morning skate. We can all agree that even Joel Quenneville isn’t crazy enough to mix up the lines that way, so Hossa was probably just taking the skate off — considering he has more than 1,200 NHL games under his belt. That does mean Garbutt draws back in on the fourth line, making it somewhat more of a checking line with more actual offensive potential. It’s not a huge change, but it’s one for the better.

Everything else stays the same, as we get to watch Act II of the 73-year-old third pairing. They had trouble keeping up with the Avalanche’s speed Tuesday, and the Oilers are another of the teams that can match the Blackhawks in speed. So we have that to look forward to. Scuderi wasn’t obnoxiously awful in his first game as a Blackhawk, he was just … slow. It was to be expected.

Crawford gets the call after being unable to throw up a third consecutive shutout. I mean, really, what was that first star of the week for if he wasn’t going to shut out everyone the rest of the season? (sarcasm font activated). Crow will need to be on the lookout for easy chances surrendered by a lax Blackhawks defense, as has happened previously against Edmonton.

On to the Oilers.

Taylor HallLeon DraisaitlTeddy Purcell

Jujahr Khaira-Ryan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle

Matt HendricksMark LetestuLauri Korpikoski

Luke GazdicAnton LanderIiro Pakarinen

Darnell NurseAndrej Sekera

Nikita NikitinJustin Schultz

Brandon DavidsonEric Gryba

Cam TalbotAnders Nilsson

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It’s no guarantee Talbot starts in net tonight, but Nilsson wasn’t very good in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, so Talbot appears likely to go. The Blackhawks were under constant pressure from the Hall-Draisaitl-Purcell line in the previous game between these teams, and they couldn’t do a whole heck of a lot to stop Hall and Draisaitl in particular. This situation isn’t exactly the same as the Avalanche — where, if you shut down the top line, you’ve won half the battle — but it isn’t terribly far off, either.

Eberle has gotten hot of late with five goals in his last six games, and Nugent-Hopkins is still a solid NHL center. The lineup looks a little different for Edmonton than it did when Chicago saw it last month, as Khaira, Gazdic and Nikitin slot in. Wunderkind Connor McDavid is still out with a shoulder injury, and Nail Yakupov is also sidelined.

The defense here is something to be exploited, with youngsters and so-so NHL players holding the reins. Sekera is not a bonafide first-pairing NHLer, and Nurse is a young guy needing more experience. But things pretty much go downhill from there.

Let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight at the United Center.

Dec 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86) with the puck during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Teuvo Teravainen

We know the Oilers bring young stars to the rink when they face the Blackhawks, but the men in the Indian Head can counter with the likes of Teuvo, among others. Edmonton’s defense is able to be shredded, and its goaltending situation is pretty brutal. With linemates Toews and Hossa struggling to do much at 5-on-5, the onus kind of fall on Teuvo to get the first line going. That may sound strange with him skating next to two veterans — including the team captain — but Teuvo has the skills and ability to make things happen against an outfit like this. That isn’t to say Toews and Hossa don’t — they obviously do — but Teuvo has had more luck at 5-on-5 of late, and this is a spot in which he could really thrive. Perhaps some big plays from him tonight kickstart the first-line offense.

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Ryan Garbutt (28) chases the puck against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at United Center. Blackhawks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Garbutt

I’m not sure what exactly Garbutt has to do to stay in the lineup this time around, but anything he can do to keep Mashinter out would be appreciated. Q doesn’t seem to know what he wants out of Garbutt, and with all the line combinations Garbutt has been part of, it’s clear he’s a little confused as well. My thought would be that his role is similar to Shaw’s when he paired with Desjardins and Kruger in last season’s playoffs. He’s supposed to be defensively responsible, but he’s also the guy who pushes the puck to the net for he and his linemates to crash it. Garbutt fires a lot of shots, and he needs to get as many of those on net as possible. Putting pressure on a weak defense and goaltending unit should lead to good results for this line and the Blackhawks in general.

Dec 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Colorado Avalanche center

Carl Soderberg

(34) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) battle for the puck during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Seabrook

Seabs has gone cold offensively from the blue line, and he was the only minus-2 for the Blackhawks on Tuesday against Colorado. It was probably good for him to get away from TVR on defense, but alongside Hjalmarsson he almost takes on more of a defensive responsibility, versus turning play the other way for offense. That falls more to Keith, who is now paired for TVR. Seabrook has shown in the past he is susceptible to getting burned by speed, so tonight will be somewhat of a test for him. Hjalmarsson can only cover for so many errors, and he won’t necessarily be perfect either. So Seabrook will need to be on top of his game tonight, especially if he and Hjalmarsson see the likes of Hall and Draisaitl.

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