RECORDS: Hawks 34-17-5 Oilers 29-18-8
PUCK DROP: 9pm Central
TV: WGN Down here, CBC up there
ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Hawks – 50.6 (15th) Oilers 50.8 (13th)
ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Hawks – 48.2 (21st) Oilers – 48.4 (19th)
The Hawks will be the first team the Oilers see after their bye week. And the Oilers will be the first team the Hawks see after theirs, which starts after this game with the Oilers. SYMMETRY!
The Hawks will have five days completely off after this one, and after winning four of the five on this trip you’d wonder if they didn’t think they got everything they needed on this trip. But that’s rarely been the Hawks M.O., and you could see where they would want to finish as strongly as possible with so much time to recover. There’s unlikely to be any changes other than the goalie after last night’s win, with Scott Darling coming in from the cold (which I guess is the only thing you can do in Edmonton).
The break came at the perfect time for the Oilers, who had lost three of four before getting out of Montreal with a shootout win on Super Bowl Sunday before hitting the beach. They’re still entrenched in a playoff spot, and due to the Homer’s Sperm nature of the Pacific Division it’s going to be nearly impossible for them to miss the playoffs. They have a seven point gap on the abyss, and that abyss is currently in the form of the Flames so it’s a pretty balloon-handed abyss.
As we said the last time the Hawks made the trip up North, there are two Oilers teams. There’s the one with Connor McDavid on the ice, and then there’s the one when he isn’t. When he’s out there, there probably isn’t a more dynamic team in the league. They play at an incredible pace, and since Draisaitl moved up to this line on the wing they’ve been destroying people to the tune of a 57.1 share. McJesus has even turned Patrick Maroon into a dangerous scorer, on par with turning water into Scarlett Johansson.
When McDavid isn’t out there, it’s still a very wonky outfit. No one’s been able to show us what exactly it is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does other than look like he had his face drawn on his skull at the last minute. Jordan Eberle can still dazzle when he feels like it, and be the next chapter in the memoirs of the invisible man when he doesn’t. He’s Ales Hemsky reincarnated. Milan Lucic grunts and looks mean a lot, because it’s all he can do as the game usually is passing him by. There are some neat bottom sixers here, like Pouliot or Letestu, that keep things from going completely balls-up.
The defense wasn’t that good to begin with and is now beat up, though if you wanted to say that Kris Russell being hurt is actually a boon for a team no one’s going to correct you. Matt Benning is also on the shelf, an Darnell Nurse is still… well, “nursing” his now yearly catastrophic injury. They’ve made do as Sekera has been really good and Klefbom not far behind. While he certainly wasn’t worth Taylor Hall, Adam Larsson has been more than serviceable and really picked it up as of late.
When the blue line has faltered, Cam and Magic Talbot has been stout, especially the past couple months but he might collapse from exhaustion as he’s made 49 starts already. The Oilers probably won’t care much if it sees a first playoff berth since the Bush administration.
The Oilers seemingly torched the Hawks the first time these two met, though that game was more even than it looked for the first 40 minutes. Like the Wild, like the Jets, and like the Avs of the past, the Oilers can play at a pace the Hawks just can’t handle. Their backcheck doesn’t matter when they can’t catch the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl, which forces the defense to play differently and everything then opens up. This is the rare team the Hawks don’t want to get in a track meet with, so they’ll have to keep their third forward higher than they’d usually like, make sure the Oilers always have to go 200 feet, and back up immediately because the Oilers live on chips out of their zone to their forwards on the go route.
One more special message to go…