Going into tonight's game versus the Blackhawks the Oilers had lost their last seven road games, a stretch dating back to late November, and had won only three games during the month of December. In the Blackhawks the Oilers found an opponent that was not only the best team in the Western Conference but a team that had won more than two-thirds of their games since getting demolished 9-2 by the Oilers six weeks ago.
All the signs pointed to an Oilers loss tonight. In fact, almost all of the signs pointed a lopsided Oilers loss. But the Oilers went into the United Center tonight and surprised a few people by coming away with a 4-3 win over the hometown Hawks. Looking at the OIlers schedule on this road trip you probably wouldn't have circled this game as one the Oilers should, or even could win but I guess that's why they play the games.
While the win was a welcome change from losses like those suffered at the hands of the Islanders on New Years Eve the real story of this game was the injuries suffered by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tom Gilbert. Nugent-Hopkins went down in the first period after falling into the boards and Tom Gilbert was lost in the second period when Dan Carcillo threw a hit on him that will almost certainly result in a suspension. Neither player returned to the game following their injuries and if either is lost for any length of time this team will be in a tough position to even keep their head above water.
The Blackhawks would score first on a Jonathan Toews goal from the slot that shouldn't have beat Devan Dubnyk who was given a chance to redeem himself after a shaky start two days ago. Dubnyk was good enough tonight to help get the Oilers the win, making some good saves at key times but the first and third goals were far too soft for my liking. Against the NHL's best teams goals like those will more often than not sink the Oilers who have a razor thin margin of error most nights, lucky for him that wasn't the case on this night.
In the second period with the fans already reeling from the news that Nugent-Hopkins wouldn't be returning, Carcillo found a new way to be a piece garbage throwing a hit on Gilbert that knocked the Oilers defender out of the game and for which Carcillo was given a major and a game misconduct for boarding. I can't see any way Carcillo isn't suspended for the hit but if Gilbert is lost for any length of time the Oilers will suffer a whole lot more than the Hawks will regardless of how long the Carcillo suspension is. Gilbert has been invaluable to the Oilers this season and with Ryan Whitney already hurt his absence from the lineup would be devastating.
The Oilers would at least exact some measure of revenge for the hit on Gilbert scoring twice during the five minute major. Ryan Smyth scored the first following a scramble around the Blackhawks net. Taylor Hall scored the second goal with a sharp angle shot that shouldn't have beaten Corey Crawford. The Hawks felt Hall should have been called for a high stick on Niklas Hjalmarsson before the goal was scored when his follow-through caught Hjalmarsson in the face. The official didn't agree and when Hjalmarsson was picking his stick up Hall stepped around him and scored his eleventh goal of the season. The Hawks and Hjalmarsson would get even with the Oilers less than two minutes later when Hjalmarsson's point shot was deflected in front by Andrew Brunette tying the game at two.
The Oilers would again take the lead when Jordan Eberle found Andy Sutton in the slot with a pass that made the big man look like a goal scorer for a minute. On the replay you see Patrick Sharp follow Eberle into the corner rather than cover Sutton, a decision that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But Eberle made that decision look bad with a quick turn and a great backhand pass to a wide open Sutton in front of the Hawks net who made no mistake on what will likely be his best scoring chance of the season.
In the third period the Oilers would extend their lead when Ben Eager showed a flash of the talent that made the Oilers sign him to a three year deal this summer rather than the brain dead moron who took multiple penalties too stupid to believe against New York. Eager picked up a pass from Jeff Petry at the Hawks blue line, skated hard around the hard around Duncan Keith, and got off a quick backhand that beat Crawford. More of this and less stupid would make the next two year of his contract at least livable.
After killing off an Eric Belanger double minor for high sticking an Oilers win was starting to look like it might be secure. And as is usually the case when that happens the Oilers gave up a goal to keep things interesting. Jimmy Hayes scored his first NHL goal from the bottom of the faceoff circle to Dubnyk's right. Again this was a goal that shouldn't have beaten the Oilers netminder. The goal was just ugly all around though. Corey Potter's clearing attempt was picked off at the blue line and then he and Petry seemed to miscommunicate and both ended up in the same place at the same time allowing two Hawks to get between them and Dubnyk.
Another Oilers penalty, this one a goaltender interference penalty to Ryan Jones, would give the Hawks their best chance to even the score but the Oilers penalty kill came up big again keeping a talented Hawks powerplay off the scoresheet. With their goalie out the Hawks would generate one more scoring chance but Dubnyk made the save that he had to allowing the Oilers to come away with a surprising two points.
News and Notes:
- The team has yet to say anything official but it seems unlikely that either Gilbert of Nugent-Hopkins will be in the lineup tomorrow. With only five defensemen available the Oilers will have to recall someone from Oklahoma City, Colten Teubert and Taylor Chorney are the only options right now.
- In the midst of the Oilers injury epidemic Shawn Horcoff briefly left the game with a shoulder injury. He returned after a couple of shifts and ended up playing over 22 minutes and took 33 faceoffs. With another game tomorrow this might be something worth keeping an eye on.
- With 12 seconds left in the game Ales Hemsky was beat out on an icing call that looked like he would get to first. It's possible he was tired, he had been out for almost a minute and a half, or that he wasn't confident that his shoulder could take the hit. But I'm willing to bet a few people in the media and some fans will assume that the only option is that he didn't want to touch the puck.
- In his first game with the Oilers this season Teemu Hartikainen looked good in his eight plus minutes of ice time recording a +7 Corsi. I thought he was particularly good in the first period initiating some hits and getting puck at the Hawks net. He did turn the puck over at the blue line leading to the Hawks first goal but aside from that his game was very good.