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Schoolin’ Life: Blackhawks vs. Oilers Preview

The Blackhawks wrap up the season series by hosting the Oilers after splitting the first two games.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers
Ryan McLeod of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Caleb Jones of the Chicago Blackhawks
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

When Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers come to 1901 W. Madison on Thursday, it will be the last time this season after the Chicago Blackhawks split the first two games.

The Oilers have won two of their previous five games, with their most recent game a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have lost four of their past five games, including Sunday’s awful 4-0 loss to the Blues.

The Oilers almost exclusively rely on McDavid and Draisaitl, who lead the team with 77 and 76 points, respectively. McDavid has scored his points in 53 games while Draisaitl has played 54, and Draisaitl has 37 goals to McDavid’s 29.

The Oilers’ reliance on their stars has gotten worse recently as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, third in points on the roster with 37, was declared “week-to-week” on Feb. 26 with a shoulder injury. The Oilers’ injury list is extensive, currently including eight players with multiple key contributors like Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian.

However, despite their health struggles, the Oilers remain one of the best teams in the league at driving the puck during 5-on-5 play, with a 50.81 percent shot share, No. 11 in the NHL this season. While the Blackhawks have improved from previous seasons in terms of quality of chances against, the Oilers are still slightly better, with 2.40 expected goals against per 60 at 5-on-5 (13th in the league) to the Blackhawks’ 2.42 (14th).

The Oilers’ success isn’t PDO driven either, at least at 5-on-5, as Edmonton has a .996 PDO at full strength. At all strengths, that PDO rises to just .998. Part of the reason for that low amount of luck is that the Oilers’ goaltending has just been awful for most of the season. Mikko Koskinen has a .905 save percentage and 39-year-old Mike Smith has a .893 in 14 fewer starts.

Edmonton’s best goaltender this season has actually been 23-year-old Stuart Skinner, who has a .913 save percentage in 12 starts but was sent back down to the AHL to make room for a returning Smith.

The Oilers are one of the best teams at generating chances, ranked 10th in the NHL with 2.57 expected goals for per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 play. They’re also ranked 11th at generating 5-on-5 scoring chances per 60 minutes at 31.63. In addition, the Oilers have the league’s third-best power play, scoring on 26.3 percent of their opportunities. That means whoever is in the Blackhawks’ net will have his hands full with the amount of shots he’ll likely face.

The last time the Blackhawks played against the Oilers — Feb. 9 — the Blackhawks allowed a lot of Edmonton activity, with the Oilers generating 28 shots, 56 shot attempts and 2.16 expected goals at 5-on-5. But the Blackhawks countered with a 9-8 advantage in high-danger chances and a 52.17 percent share of the expected goals to earn the victory. The first game, on Nov. 20, saw Edmonton score four first-period goals en route to a 5-2 win.

Goaltending remains the most important part of the Blackhawks’ 2021-22 campaign and the usual occupant will be in place on Thursday:

Oh, also, four players are back from injury: Jonathan Toews, Tyler Johnson, Riley Stillman and Calvin de Haan:

Here’s what the forward lines and defensive pairings looked like during Wednesday’s practice:

Two other items to note: Thursday’s game is Niklas Hjalmarsson Heritage Night and this game will feature Duncan Keith’s first game at the United Center as an opposing player. Keith’s teammates gave him a special entrance on Wednesday:

Blackhawks — Statistic — Oilers

46.71% (27th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.59% (9th)

45.78% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 51.68% (11th)

2.43 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.26 (9th)

3.39 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.17 (23rd)

48.6% (20th) — Faceoffs — 51.8% (8th)

20.4% (16th) — Power play — 26.3% (3rd)

75.3% (28th) — Penalty kill — 76.7% (16th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

Kubalik — Strome — Kane

DeBrincat — Toews — Johnson

Entwistle — Dach — Hagel

Lafferty — Carpenter — Borgstrom

de Haan — S. Jones

C. Jones — Murphy

Stillman — McCabe

Fleury

Lankinen

Oilers

Foegele — McDavid — Hyman

Kane — Draisaitl — Yamamoto

Benson — McLeod — Ryan

Malone — Shore — Niemelainen

Nurse — Barrie

Keith — Bouchard

Lagesson — Ceci

Smith

Koskinen

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+