The Chicago Blackhawks will head north to Edmonton to kick off the second half of their season as they battle the Oilers.
The game will feature teams heading in opposite directions. While the Blackhawks are competing for the top spot in the Western Conference, Edmonton is right in the thick of things for the number one overall pick in the draft, and they are playing with a new head coach as Todd Nelson has assumed bench duties after the ouster of Dallas Eakins.
Looking at the statistics that separate these teams, one thing becomes clear: the Oilers don’t do anything particularly well, and there isn’t anything the Hawks do particularly badly. The Blackhawks average three goals per game; the Oilers average 2.17. The Hawks only give up 2.15 goals per game; Edmonton gives up 3.32. The Oilers’ penalty killing unit only kills off 77.9% of the power plays they face; Chicago kills off nearly 90%.
All of these numbers suggest that the Blackhawks should be in for an easy time, but they only begin to scratch the surface in the matchup. The Blackhawks have won five consecutive games against the Oilers, winning by a combined score of 26-10 over that stretch. Making matters worse for Edmonton, they have yet to beat an opponent from the Central Division this season, going 0-4-5 against the group.
In order for the Blackhawks to keep that trend alive, there are a few things they need to tighten up. For starters, they can’t allow 44 shots on goal like they did against Minnesota on Thursday night. The Oilers aren’t a team with a lot of potent scorers, but they do have enough speedy forwards that if the Blackhawks aren’t disciplined on the back end, they will cause trouble. Keeping Edmonton pushed out to the boards and breaking up passing lanes through the neutral zone will be key to slowing the attack and should allow the Hawks some chances in transition.
The other thing that the Blackhawks need to do is to improve on their offensive communication. There were times on Thursday where the team was moving the puck effectively, but all too often there were blind passes going backward or across the ice, and Minnesota used their aggressive forechecking and speed to get the play going the other way when that would happen.
Cleaning up on poor passes and emphasizing defensive discipline should be enough for Chicago as they look to win their second game in a row and third in their last four tries