Today’s game: Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers, played on Feb. 11.
The Blackhawks entered this game clinging on to the playoff bubble. They were in the second of a five-game Western Canadian swing, and desperately in need of points. The Oilers were in decent shape with a dynamite offense, but would have to play this game without Connor McDavid. Why? Don’t worry, you’ll hear plenty about it during the broadcast.
Go here to watch a replay of the game, and follow along below with our handy guide:
Best moments of the game
The first 1:13 of the game for the Oilers, which they couldn’t have scripted better. It’s the old “wounded animal” theory in hockey, wherein a team missing one of its star players hits the ice with a blazing start. Edmonton did just that, and it culminated in Riley Sheahan’s opening goal after a hard-working shift from his line. They gave it back just over four minutes later, as was the Oilers’ trend this season, but a good start nonetheless.
On the Blackhawks’ first goal, check out the pass from Patrick Kane to Brandon Saad, in which the Chicago star gets a stretch pass for a possible breakaway, has that breakaway thwarted and then spins around to whip a perfect pass for a Saad tap-in. Incredible playmaking, from the speed to start the play to the pass that helped finish it.
Kane did it again in the second period, sending a backhand pass to Adam Boqvist for a one-timer goal. Awesome pass, but give the unofficial assist to Matt Benning of the Oilers for failing to mark Boqvist and instead misplay the pass.
The line of Leon Draisaitl in the middle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto on the wings combined for eight points in the game. The Oilers’ third goal was some textbook work from this trio along with defenseman Oscar Klefbom: Cycling, winning puck battles and then finally Yamamoto poked the puck through Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner after the netminder made a terrific save on Draisaitl.
Players to watch
Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers
Want a good case study of why the German center is a popular pick for the Hart Trophy this season? Just watch this game. With Connor McDavid sidelined (quad), Draisaitl is tasked with shouldering the offensive load — and he absolutely sets the tone in this game. Draisaitl is involved in four of Edmonton’s five goals.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Edmonton Oilers
The 21-year-old was called up from the AHL on Dec. 31, and in his 14 games entering this one, he made quite the impression, scoring 12 points (five goals, seven assists). Yamamoto was productive again in this contest, and it appears he’s developing some chemistry with Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers’ top line. Yamamoto also got some time on the first power-play unit in this game.
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Entering this game, the Blackhawks needed to go on a nice little run to have any chance at the playoffs. Enter Kane. He had 20 points in the 15 games prior to this one, and this game is a clear example of why he’s the heart and soul of this team, always giving a top-end effort even when his teammates aren’t quite there. It’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, either, like drawing a hooking call at the end of the second.
Oilers, 13:13 in the first period (Blackhawks for too many men on the ice)
Oilers, 16:19 in the first period (Jonathan Toews for tripping)
Oilers, 3:58 in the second (Zack Smith for slashing)
Blackhawks, 9:07 in the second (Riley Sheahan for holding)
Blackhawks, 12:12 of the second (Oscar Klefbom for hooking)
Blackhawks, 4:12 of the third (Riley Sheahan for slashing)
Connor McDavid isn’t playing in this game. Don’t worry if you tuned in late, the broadcasters will remind you early and often. In fact, McDavid’s name is mentioned more than any other player actually playing in this game (unofficial tally, but feels right).
Yes, he’s the best player in the world, but he’s not the best player on this team this season (Draisaitl is), and it feels somewhat disrespectful to Draisaitl and the rest of the first line that McDavid is mentioned so often, considering how admirably they filled in for him — the trio scored four of the five goals.
Best dressed goalie
Two really terrific masks, each in their own way. Mike “Mr. 600” Smith of the Oilers went big and bold with a David Arrigo-designed mask that accentuated the Oilers’ iconic logo, complete with oil derrick in the middle and his children’s names in mini-Edmonton logos on the back. Lehner, with the Blackhawks ahead of his trade to Vegas later in the month, had a mask that featured some team iconography as well as “#SameHere,” which is a mental health support slogan:
#SameHere is an expression which means: I’ve faced challenges in life too. Those challenges have affected my mental health. It’s a sign that we hope will unite the world to once and for all, normalize how universal this topic is. pic.twitter.com/gWsuDIwkMR
— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) August 13, 2019
As sharp as Smitty looks, we’re more partial to his animated masks (remember the “Super Munchkins”?). Lehner wins for using his lid for a good cause.
Favorite crowd shot
Watching an Oilers vs. Blackhawks game for the Viewers Club this week and this Chicago fan went from ecstasy to apathy by the end. pic.twitter.com/Bnq9vvis2t
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 16, 2020
We felt the emotional journey of this Blackhawks fan, who celebrated in enemy territory and then simply had to see what Instagram was up to after the Oilers won the game.
Lineup move of the game
The Blackhawks scratched Dylan Strome in favor of Alex Nylander. Strome had only one goal in his previous eight games, dating back to before he was placed on injured reserve in January. He was invisible in the last four games he appeared in. Alas, Nylander didn’t offer much more in just 7:55 of ice time.
Decision of the game
There’s always a debate in the NHL about when to pull your goaltender. We’re in the “sooner, the better” camp. Kudos to Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton for yanking Lehner with about 2:10 left in regulation, as his team got a handful of chances to tie the game against the Oilers before a center ice turnover allowed Draisaitl to ice it with three seconds left.
Other highlights and lowlights
Took a pause early in the first period when the announcers mention Colby Cave, who had just been called up for this game. It was his sixth game of the season. The 25-year-old Cave died in April after suffering a brain bleed.
Edmonton’s first power play was pretty dreadful. It didn’t generate any shots and allowed a short-handed goal to Jonathan Toews. But the Oilers scored on each of their next two man-advantage opportunities, showing why they have one of the most efficient power plays in the league. The second power play, in particular, was pure grit. The Oilers never allow the puck to leave their zone, chipping away and maintaining possession, until Yamamoto finally hammers the puck in.
I remember watching the Blackhawks’ next game, against the Vancouver Canucks. A big moment in that game was 19-year-old Kirby Dach rocking Antoine Roussel with a big hit behind the net. It was a legal hit into the boards, but Roussel struggled getting up. If you watch Dach closely in this game, you start to see glimpses of his physicality. Once he starts filling out his 6-foot-4 frame, Dach is going to be a force for the Blackhawks.
Any lingering questions after watching? Who ya got in the qualification-round matchup?
Kaplan: The Blackhawks had a hard time containing the McDavid-less Oilers, so how will they be able to stop Edmonton at full strength? This is the big question for me after rewatching this game, and heading into the qualification series.
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The Oilers have the top two scorers in the league. They have the best power play in the league. And it’s no secret the Blackhawks have a leaky defense (they allowed 3.06 goals per game, tied with the Flames for 15th most in the league). Chicago’s big blue-line offseason acquisition, Calvin de Haan, was barely available. Brent Seabrook is out and faces a long journey back. Duncan Keith is pretty much holding down the fort back there as the Blackhawks are in a weird transitional phase before they can turn over the blue line to the youngsters (Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, et al). And let’s not forget Chicago traded away its best goalie, Lehner, at the trade deadline, thinking it already whiffed on its shot at the playoffs. Whoops. Corey Crawford certainly has the capability to steal a game or two, but the Blackhawks no longer have goaltending depth. Malcolm Subban never got game action for Chicago, and the team is likely not going to turn to him unless there’s an emergency.
Mike Smith has proved he’s the guy for Edmonton, and Dave Tippett’s improved penalty kill should stifle the Blackhawks (not that it matters much on Chicago’s wimpy power play, but still). I think Chicago has enough skill players to get into a high-scoring shootout with the Oilers. Kane and Toews still can get to that next gear; Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik are all great complementary players. But ultimately, Chicago’s defensive deficiencies will do them in. I’ll take the Oilers in four.
Wyshynski: As Emily noted, I’m fascinated with what the Blackhawks might have done differently at the trade deadline had they known they were going to be a postseason team. I’m also fascinated by whether Andreas Athanasiou, a key deadline pickup for GM Ken Holland’s Oilers, can finally find chemistry with McDavid so we can watch them fly.
If I had to make a pick now, I’d lean Edmonton, because I can’t trust the Blackhawks’ defense and because we assume they’re still calling penalties in the qualification round to give the Oilers’ incredible power play (29.5 percent conversion rate) its chances. In an ideal postseason format, the Oilers would be in the round of 16 and the Blackhawks wouldn’t still be playing, but hey, the NHL did what it could with what it was given.