Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Keystone XL Pipeline: Copper & Blue
Tonight in the northern most professional sporting arena on the continent, the Hawks will reach the median point of their annual Circus Trip, having taken four of a possible six points so far. Naturally, they’ll catch the hosting Oilers in the midst of their most competent stretch of the year to this point, as if this team didn’t already give the Hawks issues.
Entering tonight, the Oilers have won three straight at home, have been off since Thursday night, and goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been given one of the NHL’s three stars of the week. Things are looking about as up as they possibly could for the Oil, all things considered. During this mini stretch, the Oilers have outscored their opposition 15-3, even if all three convincing wins have come against the equally terrible Flames, Jackets, and Panthers. It leads one to question just how productive this stretch ultimately even is for Edmo, as playoff aspirations waved bye-bye to them about a week into the season, and this fart of adequacy in the last week could very well screw them out of yet another #1 overall pick with Buffalo having long circled the toilet bowl and making their way through the sewer systems of this season.
As can be imagined, they’ve done it with a heaping helping of special teams during this stretch, scoring 5 times on 11 opportunities, and stopping all nine against. But again, considering the competition and the offensive talent the Oilers boast, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Also not surprising is David Perron scoring without the encumberance of it having to matter or not, with 18 points in 20 games, good for second on the team tied with RNH, and behind Jordan Eberle’s team leading 20.
Where things have gone balls up for the Oilers in general has been there deservedly maligned blue line, which doesn’t have anything by way of positional discipline in the entire corps save for maybe captain Andrew Ference, who’s in way over his head as a top pairing guy anyway. Justin Schultz continues to provide offense from the back end, but he’s certainly not outscoring his defensive inadequacies.
In net for the Oilers, the Humongous Big show will have to wait until this homestand ends, as Devan Dubnyk will get the opportunity to ride things out. Even with this three game win streak which included a shutout, Dubnyk’s save percentage is still sub-.900 at .896, while the Oilers allow 30.0 shots against per game. Whatever that’s a recipe for isn’t appetizing.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, word out of the morning skate is that not only will Michal Handzus rejoin the lineup on a wing on the second line, but Corey Crawford will make his fifteenth straight appearance starting tonight. Since I haven’t won one Stanley Cup let alone two like Joel Quenneville, I really have no room to criticize these moves, because after all he’s the coach and he clearly knows best. But in the chance that Stan Bowman reads this blog, as I fall asleep clutching my blankie made of Corsi spreadsheets every night hoping, and I do finally hear my mom bellow down into the basement that he’s on the line and finally asking me to coach, knowing that if I were in charge the Hawks would be undefeated, I better have my opinion down in print just in case. So with that said, let it be on the record that both of these ideas are pretty fucking stupid.
Yes, Crawford finally looked solid on Saturday night and Quenneville usually likes to reward a win with another start, but he’s going to need a rest at some point or another, and if the basement dwelling Oilers aren’t the opportunity to do it, spiky as they may be, then when is? Perhaps the one silver lining of Crawford’s struggles of late may bump him off of the Team Canada roster, which would give him a nice forced hiatus in the middle of February, if he hasn’t already collapsed by then.
For Handzus, Quenneville just simply can’t seem to help himself. Of course with that line now finally humming a bit, thanks in large part to Brandon Saad’s puck pursuit, there’s going to be a way to shoehorn in Handzus’ goofy ass, this time on the wing, where he’s even less effective, as he’s not taking draws. He’s even a redundant left hand shot to Pirri’s, so there’s not even an advantage to having him take draws on one side of the ice. Exacerbating things further is the opponent, who for all of their silliness can most certainly skate, which has never been Handzus’ strong suit even before he was 78 years old and had body parts falling off.
Games in Edmonton are always weird even to watch. They start late, the camera is low, the lighting is poor, and the benches and penalty boxes are on the opposite sides of the rink from every other building in the league. Adding to that that over the past five years, there hasn’t really been a close game between these two teams played there, as the fast ice always leads to one team blowing the other’s doors off and never looking back. But even in catching the Oilers on a hot streak, the strategy remains the same with defensive responsibility with minimal pinching (that means you Nacho Libre), and forcing the Oil to work for the puck in the corners at both ends. Not giving this talented group any more time and space with stupid penalties would also be a plus. And of course, put everything on net and make Dubnyk earn every bit of that .896 save percentage. Let’s go Hawks.