CHICAGO - Can the Edmonton Oilers petition to have 10 games a year against the Chicago Blackhawks?
No matter if the Oilers are one of the National Hockey League’s bottom-feeders and the Hawks are one of the NHL’s juggernauts, the Oilers are always “in the fight,” to borrow one of head coach Dallas Eakins’ favourite expressions.
That’s why Chicago coach Joel Quenneville opted to play his No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, and not the sentimental choice of former Oiler Nikolai Khabibulin.
“They certainly love playing us,” said Coach Q. “They get excited.”
The Oilers came here at the end of their four-game road trip with four wins in their last six games against the Blackhawks and pushed them to the end, but fell 5-4.
They proved a point against the Hawks, but they didn’t get any.
In 19 games, 38 points have been available, and the Oilers have 10.
They have enough offence, but again made egregious errors defensively, with people standing by their lonesome in front of Devan Dubnyk, who was very good. There was only Bryan Bickell’s rebound tap-in when Dubnyk couldn’t squeeze Michal Rozsival’s hard shot that the Oilers goalie might want back.
It’s the thirteenth time in the 19 games the Oilers have given up four or more.
They’ve allowed 75 goals on the season, which is why they’re 29th in a 30-team league. They used to give up four during the glory days on many nights too, stranding goalies Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, but they’d routinely win 7-4 because they had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and company rampaging.
Now, they can’t make up for their swiss-cheese defence.
The Oilers got a goal from Jordan Eberle — who broke a nine-game drought with a tip of a Nick Schultz short-handed shot — and two assists. Philip Larsen had three helpers on goals by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and two power-play efforts by Nail Yakupov and David Perron, but was also on for four Blackhawks goals even-strength, showing the good news/bad news with him — and the team as a whole.
The Oilers have lost eight of their last nine and 15 of their 19 (they got points in a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings and an overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, both on the road.
The Hawks, who have scored five or more goals five times in the last seven games, scored twice in the last 7-1/2 minutes. Marcus Kruger tucked the puck around Dubnyk’s leg after little-used Ben Smith found him alone, then Duncan Keith sifted a 45-foot power-play shot past the Oilers goalie with Marian Hossa waving his stick at the puck as it went past him.
Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw had the others for the 12-2-4 Blackhawks.
“Off the rush, the Oilers are as good as anybody in this league,” said Quenneville.
“They’ve got lots of scoring threats, lots of guys get on the scoresheet against us.”
But they can’t stop teams from scoring, even when the goaltending is good as Dubnyk has been the last two games. They poured 70 shots in the direction of the Oilers net — 36 shots on goal, 23 blocked and 11 missed. The Oilers had 23 shots on Crawford.
“Our defensive zone coverage is killing us. And if you can’t defend in this league, you can’t win in this league,” said Eakins.
“Better effort for sure than the last game (a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers),” said Eakins. “But we had the missed coverage defensively and it was some of our veteran players and that’s concerning to me. I thought we had flashes of very good D-zone work, then flashes of total unawareness.”
Like leaving Kruger standing by himself. Or like three guys going to Saad, who found Shaw all alone,
Anton Belov had inadvertently knocked the stick out of Larsen’s hand, and the Oilers defenceman didn’t see Shaw behind him.
On the Shaw goal, the Oilers looked like kid soccer players just learning the game and everybody chasing the ball. Bickell parked himself for an easy tap-in with nobody breathing heavy on him.
Saad also beat Belov to the high slot after getting spilled at the blue-line, and batted an ankle-high shot past Dubnyk.
“I really like Devan, especially in the second period … some really good saves,” said Eakins. One Dubnyk glove save on Jonathan Toews was a show-stopper.
Gagner got his second career penalty shot — Roberto Luongo stopped him on Oct. 25, 2008 — when he was chopped down by Brent Seabrook four minutes into the middle period as he cut to the net. He looked out of gas taking the freebie shot.
“Yeah, I expended a lot of energy (on the first play). The puck bobbled on me at the end,” said Gagner.
Yakupov’s goal was only his second, and both have come on the power play. Sunday’s was a scorcher that Crawford had no chance on.
Perron has two goals in as many games after missing four with a sore neck and sundry other ailments. Late in the third, he tried to clear the puck up the boards and it went into the Hawks bench, hitting Rozsival in the face. He was down for several seconds, before leaving with a towel to his mouth.
“He’s OK, but there’s some work (stitches or dental) to do,” said Quenneville.
The Oilers are getting used to being punched in the mouth, loss after loss in this death march start to the season..
“Right now it’s tough for me to stand here and say what we did wrong and what we did right. Bottom line is we didn’t get any points, and that’s what matters,” said Larsen.
ON THE BENCH
The Oilers didn’t dress Luke Gazdic (shoulder), Justin Schultz (groin) and Will Acton … Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has reported to Oklahoma City to play a game or two or three for the American Hockey League Barons before joining the Oilers.
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