Editor’s note: Welcome Shalyn Brady to the SCH writing staff. She’s cool and thinks St. Louis pizza is basically nachos. “That’s just science, folks.”
The Blackhawks have won their last two home games, including a 3-1 win over the Ducks, and a 4-1 handling of the Rangers. With the Lightning loss a week ago in the rearview mirror, the Blackhawks are in search of three straight home victories for the first time this season.
After Corey Crawford started Saturday night, Cam Ward is expected to face Edmonton, holding a 3-1 record, a less-than-ideal .885 save percentage, and a lofty 23 goals against. The Blackhawks will look for Ward to turn it around against an Oilers team that has just five wins so far.
In the three games played last season against the Oilers, the Blackhawks went 2-0-1, coming away with five of the six possible points. Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane all contributed on goals in those three games, with DeBrincat and Kane scoring two apiece.
The Oilers are coming into Chicago fresh off a 5-3 road win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Edmonton is currently 5-3-1, with nine points — just one behind the Pacific Division leader San Jose — and 4-1-1 in its last six games.
As expected, Connor McDavid leads the team in points with 16 and averages 23:49 of ice time, which is the highest among Edmonton’s forwards, confirming that he is again shouldering majority of the workload. Two other Oilers roster are in double digits: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11) and Leon Draisaitl (10).
A few of the younger Oilers are struggling to get going, like Jesse Puljujarvi and Oscar Klefbom, despite Klefbom tallying an average of 25:30 time on ice, just a tick higher than McDavid. Together, Puljujarvi and Klefbom have a combined minus-4 rating, with just five total points through nine games. Cam Talbot also has been shaky in net, with a 4-3-1 record and a .901 save percentage.
McDavid can only carry this team so far — consistency throughout the Oilers’ lineup is scarce. On paper, this team should be a competitor in every facet. On the ice, it’s a cluster of turnovers and takeaways, and not the ones you’re looking for. One bright spot is young defensemen Evan Bouchard, who scored his first NHL goal Thursday. He’s likely to stay up with the team, which could use a boost on defense.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks continue to hope for more nights from Saad like his two-goal game against the Ducks on Tuesday. Chicago could also use a spark to get the third and fourth lines moving. Of the 40 goals scored this season, 25 of them come from Jonathan Toews, Kane, and DeBrincat, who all play on the top two lines. The bottom-six forwards have only accounted for only six of those 40 — something that will need to improve as the season unfolds.
Defense and special teams also need to improve for this Blackhawks team. The Blackhawks’ power play is currently tied for 28th in league, with an 11.1 percent conversion rate. For comparison, the Capitals lead the league with a 37.1% conversion percentage, and the Kings sit at the bottom with a 8.8% conversion percentage.
The Blackhawks average 3.63 goals per game, which is good for fourth in the league. But the goals against per game is another story — the Blackhawks are 26th in that department with a 3.73 average. Tightening up the blue line is going to be crucial as the season moves along. One possible lineup change on that blue line involves Jan Rutta, who was benched in the second period against St. Louis and could be scratched in favor of Brandon Davidson. Maybe two Brandons can make one solid defensive pairing? Stay tuned to find out!
DeBrincat — Toews — Kahun
Saad — Anisimov — Kane
Fortin — Johnson — Schmaltz
Kunitz — Kruger — Hayden
Keith — Jokiharju
Gustafsson — Seabrook
Manning — Rutta/Davidson
Nugent-Hopkins — McDavid — Yamamoto
Rieder — Draisaitl — Chiasson
Lucic — Strome — Caggiula
Khaira — Brodziak — Kassian
Klefbom — Larsson
Nurse — Russell
Garrison — Benning
How to watch:
Start time: 5 p.m. Central
Location: United Center, Chicago
TV: NHL Network (US), NBC Sports Chicago