The Oilers are 22 points behind the Hawks in the standings, but for reasons unexplained, maybe it’s the Hawks ice girls, the Oilers have matched up very well against Kane, Toews, Keith, Hossa and their teammates. Yesterday Kane said the Hawks still remember the 9-2 ass-kicking they took from the Oilers at Rexall on November 19th and they’ll be ready tonight.
The Oilers will be as well, and fans should witness a fast-paced, energetic game tonight.
How have the Oilers won 4 of the last 7 v. the Hawks? Honestly they don’t have an answer, other than they definitely come prepared to play and, "We seem to get up to play them," said Tom Renney. I wonder if fear of embarrassment factors in at all? The Hawks have loads of talent, and if the Oilers aren’t prepared to play the Hawks could easily light them up, but the Oilers proved that if the Hawks take them lightly they have the firepower to embarrass them as well.
NO RNH OR BARKER
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Cam Barker will spend another night in the pressbox, but both are very likely to play Saturday v. the Red Wings. This is a smart decision. There is no need to rush RNH back. Tonight’s game is meaningless in the grand scheme of his development, and considering he’s only had one practice with contact, it is the right move to give him another full practice along with 48 more hours of rest before he plays.
Barker has shed about eight pounds since his last game in November. He’s in better shape now than he was at the start of the season, and says he feels a touch quicker on the ice. I’m curious to see how he looks when he returns on Saturday.
The Oilers will go with the exact same lineup as Tuesday.
Cornet – Gagner – Eberle
Hall – Horcoff – Hemsky
Smyth – Belanger – Jones
Eager – Lander – Petrell
Whitney – Potter
Smid – Petry
Peckham – Sutton
Dubnyk has never started four consecutive NHL games before, and if he wins tonight he’ll get the call Saturday. If he stands on his head and loses he still might get the call. He needs to show the organization he can be a reliable and consistent goalie in the final 32 games.
TOI SHOWS HE WAS A TOP FOUR
You can argue that on a good team Cam Barker is not a top-four D-man, but on the Oilers, in his twelve games, he was a top-four. On the depth chart to start the year the coaches had him in their top-two pairings, and his icetime shows that he was a legit top-four for the Oilers. It is fair to disagree with his signing, but the facts are he was a top-four defender on the Oilers prior to his injuries.
Here’s his TOI per game and where it ranked amongst the six defenders.
Oct 09th v. Pit: 21:16 (3rd most on blueline)
Oct 13th @ Min: 19:52 (4th)
Oct 15th v. Van: 20: 46 (2nd)
Oct 17th v. Nsh: 18:42 (4th)
Oct 18th @ Cgy: 19:20 (4th)
Oct 20th v. Min: 22:27 (3rd)
Oct 22nd v. NYR: 21:48 (1st)
Oct 25th v. VAN: 20:27 (4th)
Oct 27th v. WSH: 21:22 (2nd)
Oct 28th @ COL: 15:53 (5th, hurt his shoulder this game)
Nov 08th @ MTL: 17:47 (4th)
Nov 10th @ BOS: 20:59 (1st, injured his ankle)
The numbers don’t lie. Strudwick was accurate when he said Barker was a top-four in Edmonton, while Willis pointed out, accurately, he wasn’t a top-four on other teams, however, JW was incorrect to imply he wasn’t one on the Oilers depth chart. When you lose three of your top-four D-men for lengthy stretches it will have a negative impact on your team. Debating it wasn’t smart to have Barker in your top-four to start the year is completely fair, but I won’t blame a coach for putting him there considering their options in October.
Moving forward I’m interested to see what the Oilers do with Barker. He will have 31 games to prove himself. If he plays solid, and is indeed a half-step quicker, then the Oilers can look at qualifying him, but if he struggles I’m not sure the Oilers can afford to qualify him at $2 million a season.
Barker signed here because he knew he’d get a shot to prove himself, and when he returns it will be up to him to earn a new contract. I like scenarios where the onus is on the player to perform. Let’s see how it unfolds.
GREAT SUPERBOWL SPOT
Here is another sneak preview of a SB ad you will see on Sunday. Classic. If you play men’s league, I’m sure most of you have dreamt about having this happen. Hell, when you have 20 fans watching you amp your game up, so imagine playing in front of a thousands. Does anyone know one of the guys on these teams? Was this exactly how it played out? If so, then this is even better.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Hawks won’t take the Oilers lightly, but the Oilers are confident they can play with them. The Hawks win a tight one 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall loves playing the Hawks, and he’ll score in his third straight game and add an assist. Andy Sutton has been jumping in the play much more lately, will also bang one home tonight.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan Whitney will engage in a few conversations with Kane during scrums, but none of it will be about the game. Whitney is a diehard Patriots fans, and he’s yet to find anyone to bet him on the game. Kane is from Buffalo, and after Tom Brady ripped his hometown and their hotels, he’ll lean towards the Giants. Watch Whitney and Kane interact throughout the game, and in the 3rd they will agree upon the wager.