The Blackhawks start a four-game roundtrip on Saturday night in Edmonton, looking to extend their win streak to five games. The Oilers will be the biggest challenge for the Blackhawks since the coaching change because they’ll be facing the best player in the league in Connor McDavid.
Oh, and it’ll be the first time the Blackhawks will ever be playing against Duncan Keith. No biggie.
Despite being atop the Western Division standings, the Oilers are a statistically mediocre team driven predominantly by their two superstars in McDavid (30 points) and Leon Draisaitl (33 points). Deep teams rarely have one player — much less two — be at or near 50 percent of the team’s goal total. The Oilers are also in the bottom half of the league in every shot share category, including expected goals (49.27 percent), and only six of their players have positive individual shot numbers: McDavid, Draisaitl, their most common linemates, and the defensemen that are most often on the ice with them.
That’s still better than the Blackhawks at the moment, but it does mean that the team without McDavid’s line on the ice is vulnerable, so the Blackhawks will have to make the most of that if they want to beat a flawed but so far successful Oilers team.
The flaws of the Oilers were evident in their most recent game, a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. The Jets dictated play the first two periods with nearly 60-percent of the shot attempt share and 54-percent of expected goals share, forcing Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner to make 46 saves and McDavid to score a highlight reel goal in the third to force overtime.
Other than McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers have one other player that is over a point-per-game in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (19 points) and another that is close in Jesse Puljujarvi (14 points). On the back end, the top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard lead the team in points (11 and 8 respectfully) while playing in all situations and Keith rounds out the top-three in playing time. However, Nurse was injured in the Oilers’ last game, which is a big blow to the Oilers.
In net, Mikko Koskinen has been pretty average with a .910 save-percentage and 2.96 goals against average — the latter of which is ninth most out of 34 goaltenders who have played at least eight games, further emphasizing the defensive issues of the Oilers.
The Blackhawks have looked better in their recent games, but they still have a lot to work on, especially their play after they’ve earned a multi-goal lead. In their last five games, they’ve had impressive low-event first periods that often ended in leads for the Blackhawks, but they always allowed the opposing team back into the game by the midway point with the third period being their weakest. Of the six goals against over that game span, five of them have come in the third period. This inability to close out games could be an issue again Saturday night as the Oilers have the most third-period goals in the league (25).
Kane: "We've got to figure out a way to play a little bit better with a lead. Just seemed like it was a lot of chasing the puck, get it out of the zone, the next line comes out and does the same thing over and over again. It’s not really the recipe for success."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 18, 2021
As a result, the Blackhawks victories have all been one-goal games — excluding empty netters — and half were forced to go into overtime. These poor finishes are the reason the Blackhawks are still near or at the bottom of the league statistically in every shot share category. They need to figure out how to carry their successful low-event style from their recent first periods through the rest of the game.
Luckily, the Blackhawks have been getting excellent performances from both their goalies — Marc-Andre Fleury has a 0.950 save-percentage over the last three games and Kevin Lankinen is at 0.935 in three of his last five games.
As always, the Blackhawks are led by Patrick Kane in points (17) — and that’s with him missing four games —and Alex DeBrincat in goals (9). On the back end, Seth Jones has 14 points, which is also good for being tied for fourth-best scoring among league defensemen. However, after that, the next most productive player is Jonathan Toews but at a distant 0.5 point-per-game rate. Like the Oilers mentioned above, the Blackhawks have depth issues but to an even more skewed degree. The Blackhawks have to get other players going if they want a chance at long-term success this season.
The Blackhawks might have reinforcements coming, though — Brandon Hagel is slotting back into the lineup after missing three games with a shoulder injury. His addition should mean the Blackhawks are one step closer to having four balanced lines.
Hagel says his shoulder injury — an AC joint sprain — feels good and he’ll play tonight (in front of a bunch of family), less than 2 weeks after the injury.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 20, 2021
“It was a relief just hearing how long it was going to be. I was really worried. I’ve never been injured before.”
In other player news: Mike Hardman is also expected to return to the lineup, Calvin de Haan is doubtful for Saturday due to wrist soreness, and Tyler Johnson is on LTIR with a neck injury and not traveling with the team.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Oilers (numbers from last season)
45.85% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 48.64% (18th)
43.96% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 49.66% (16th)
2.84 (16th) — Goals per game — 3.27 (7th)
3.29 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.75 (11th)
46.9% (27th) — Faceoffs — 50.4% (14th)
21.7% (11th) — Power play — 27.6% (1st)
76.8% (28th) — Penalty kill — 82.5% (9th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Kubalik — Toews — Hagel
Debrincat — Dach — Kane
Borgstrom — Strome — Khaira
Hardman/Carpenter —Entwistle — Kurashev
de Haan/Gustafsson — S. Jones
McCabe — Murphy
Stillman — C. Jones
Hymen — McDavid — Puljujarvi
Nugent-Hopkins — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Foegele — McLeod — Kassian
Benson — Sceviour — Turris
Keith — Bouchard
Broberg — Ceci
Russell — Barrie
How to watch
When: 9 p.m. CT
Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: ESPN+