The pressure has been relieved of the Chicago Blackhawks after a 6 – 2 pounding Friday night in Colorado, and that bodes well for the Madhouse Gang. For nearly the entire first half of the season, the Hawks had a nationally-sized monkey on their backs and performed with flying colors. Now that they have one loss under their belts, the boys look forward to keeping their game top-notch without feeling the pressure to make history each night on the ice.
Ray Emery will start in net against the Edmonton Oilers Sunday night in Chicago, still boasting a 10 – 0 – 0 record on the season. He has been solid for the Madhouse Gang, making some incredible saves in desperate situations to bail out the defense. Even so, the defense has been playing top-shelf hockey – Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival are each a +11 through 25 games this season. They have been crucial additions to the Hawks’ defense, a section of Chicago’s game that needed improvement ever since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Edmonton has been struggling of late, with 20 players posting negative +/-‘s through 24 games – the Hawks have 19 players posting positive +/- numbers. Still, the Oilers have some serious firepower on offense, including the 2012 – 2013 number 1 overall draft pick Nail Yakupov and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins who have both been quiet as of late. Taylor Hall and Sam Gagne lead the team with 21 and 19 points respectively through 24 games.
In their last meeting with the Edmonton Oilers, Marian Hossa scored the game-winning goal 1:44 into overtime to give the Hawks 2 points in the United Center. Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane lead the Hawks with 24 career points against the Oilers followed by Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith with 21 career points apiece.
On the injury front, Patrick Sharp is still out for the Blackhawks and is expected to be out 2 – 3 more weeks with an upper-body injury (the indication seems to be that surgery is not in the cards for him). Edmonton has four players posted in Injured Reserve, including former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulan who is out with a groin injury.
Notable mention for tonight: Johnny Oduya looks for his 100th NHL point tonight in Chicago – a feat that looks feasible based on his level of play this season.
In their second of three meetings this season, both Chicago and Edmonton will be focused on playing a fast 60 minutes – both teams play very well in a high-paced game. Edmonton looks to get some points to counteract their past two games, which were losses. The Blackhawks aren’t lacking in the points category – not by a long shot – but getting back on the horse will be a big factor in how they shape up for the rest of the season. As hard as a 24-game point-streak was to accomplish, the real test is how the Madhouse Gang rebounds from a pounding like they did on Friday night.