NHL News And Notes
Barry Melrose talks about the Canucks, Chicago's goaltending battle and Aaron Asham accuses Matt Cooke of biting him during a fight Sunday
EDMONTON, Alberta -- These aren’t your Gretzky’s Oilers but don’t tell Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville Tuesday night is going to be an easy win.
The Edmonton Oilers may have lost 10 in a row and 17 of 18, but after the Blackhawks were not able to take advantage of a depleted defense against the Vancouver Canucks, no one is taking anything for granted.
“It’s a dangerous game, it’s a dangerous team,” Quenneville said Tuesday after the morning practice. “You look at their last two games, they could have easily come out on top…We [the coaches] make an awareness of what they want to do but mainly what I’m looking at is what we have to do [Tuesday night] to be ready.”
How about skating, forechecking, and screening the goaltender? Those were the common references heard in the Hawks dressing room since losing to Vancouver on Saturday.
“We made some D-men look pretty damn good last game,” Hawks right winger Kris Versteeg said of their 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Saturday. “That’s something we can’t do. We did it in Ottawa as well. We weren’t getting in on the forecheck, and we made their fifth and sixth D-men look like one and two.”
“I think we’re playing better, but now it's time for us to bear down and put it in because without us helping it's not going to be easy [to win],” Versteeg said.
It’s not like the rest of the Hawks are scoring in bunches during the middle portion of the marathon trip. Minus Duncan Keith’s empty netter in Calgary, the Hawks have four goals in their past three games.
“I noticed that, too,” Hawks right winger Patrick Kane said. “We haven’t been scoring a lot the last few games, and we want to get back on the board here and get everyone contributing again like we had a couple of weeks ago.”
One way to do it against Edmonton is on the power play. The Oilers are ranked 29th in killing penalties and have given up at least one in five straight games and 13 of 15.
The Hawks' sixth-ranked power play is almost guaranteed a goal if they get the chances. That’s still a sore spot -- the Hawks rank 25th in power-play opportunities.
It’s even perplexing to Quenneville, considering how much the Hawks have the puck.
“I think if you play a hard game and you have the puck a lot in their end it will lead to scoring chances and power plays but to say it’s this or this that will lead to them [power plays],” Quenneville said. “That’s tough to coach.”
The Hawks are doing their best and saying the right things trying not to look ahead to a showdown with the San Jose Sharks. Tuesday, they take on the team with the least points in the NHL; Thursday it will be the most.
“We need to focus on this one [Tuesday night],” Kane said. “If we do and get the two points, then [San Jose] could be a game that we’re competing for first place.”
Cristobal Huet starts in net for the BlackHawks.
Brent Sopel has been taking a beating lately and will sit out the game. Quenneville called it another “maintenance day” and a chance for Jordan Hendry to shake off some rust. Hendry hasn’t played since Jan. 14.
Dave Bolland joined the team for his first practice since undergoing back surgery in November. He hopes to be playing when the Hawks return home from the trip.
Oilers Coach Pat Quinn turns 67 on Friday but he is experiencing something for the first time as a coach. “I’ve never been through something like this,” Quinn said Tuesday morning in reference to his struggling team. The Oilers are reverting to training camp-like drills and changing their routines in an effort to break out of their slump. Nothing has worked so far.
Several native Western Canadian Hawks, including Troy Brouwer and Colin Fraser, were able to sleep in their own beds with the team having an extra day in the Vancouver area. “A home-cooked meal,” Fraser said. “You can’t beat it. Especially on a long road trip.”
Kane always likes playing Edmonton because he gets to see his friend and former teammate, Sam Gagner. They played together for the London Knights in 2006-2007 combining for 263 points in 58 games. On Monday night the two of them, along with North Dakota teammates Jonathan Toews and Taylor Chorney, of the Oilers, all went to dinner.
“It was four guys, and I lost the credit card game,” Kane said. “It’s a game where you have to try and guess the amount of the check, and one by one you’re eliminated. It came down to me and Sam, and I lost, so I had to pick [the check] up. It's OK, we’re in first place. It wasn’t too much.”