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Game Notes: Chicago Blackhawks @ Edmonton Oilers — Game 17

After a gutsy win over the Winnipeg Jets, the injury-riddled Edmonton Oilers will host the suddenly-surging Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

1. Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Jets in the shootout was fantastic. It certainly didn’t feel like November in that game. It felt like April.

The Oilers were led by an incredible 46-save performance from Stuart Skinner in his debut in Edmonton in front of his hometown fans. Connor McDavid also scored yet another video game goal, busting through the entire Jets roster immediately after Winnipeg had gone up 1-0.

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2. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t all positives. On Friday morning, we learned that the team will be without Darnell Nurse and Slater Koekkoek as both defencemen were placed on the Injured List.

Koekkoek fell into the boards awkwardly in the first period and only played 3:29 in the game all told, so this report wasn’t at all a surprise. But the Nurse news was totally out of the blue, as Edmonton’s top defender played 31:21 in total, including a good chunk of the overtime frame.

3. This leaves the Oilers without their top- and third-pairing left-handed defencemen. Coming up in their places are William Lagesson, who has 27 games of NHL experience, and rookie Philip Broberg.

Key to Edmonton’s regular-season success over the past couple of years has been graduating talent from the minor leagues. When Adam Larsson was hurt at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Ethan Bear was called up and filled the role. A few months later, the team was scuffling, and Kailer Yamamoto was recalled and helped form a dominant second line.

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It would be huge for the Oilers if Broberg could come up and hit the ground running at the big league level. Broberg has been excellent for the Bakersfield Condors thus far, with 10 assists over the course of 13 games playing on the team’s top pairing, and he has two years of experience playing in Sweden’s top league.

I’m sure the Oilers would have liked for Broberg to play some more games in the AHL as this season represents his North American debut, but that’s life. It’ll be exciting to see what he can do.

4. The comparable for Broberg is naturally Oscar Klefbom.

Edmonton selected Klefbom with the No. 19 pick in the 2011 draft. He stayed in Sweden for two years after getting drafted, scoring two points in 33 games in 2011-12 and three points in 11 games in an injury-riddled 2012-13 season. Klefbom came over to North America in 2013-14 and played 48 games with the Oklahoma City Oil Barons, where he’d score 10 points in 48 games. He was called up for a 17-game cup of coffee after that.

In 2014-15, Klefbom played his first nine games of the season in the NHL, where he would score eight points. He was then called up to the big leagues and didn’t look back. Klefbom would score 20 points in 60 games for the Oilers that season and then wound up inking his seven-year contract extension in September.

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5. With Broberg, you have a player trending better than Klefbom at each step, which isn’t all too surprising given the difference in draft pedigree.

Broberg scored eight points in 45 games in his post-draft season in Sweden’s top league and then he scored 13 points in 44 games last season. His 2020-21 season was derailed slightly due to an injury suffered at the World Juniors. Broberg is back and healthy this year, playing top-pairing minutes for the Condors in his AHL debut and producing at a high level.

Klefbom came up in his cup of coffee and played 15:48 for the Oilers in 2013-14. Given the pattern, it’s fair to expect Broberg to hold his own in the same role. He might also impress and command more playing time.

6. The Blackhawks roll into Edmonton on a four-game winning streak. Since firing head coach Jeremy Colliton and replacing him with Derek King, Chicago hasn’t lost a game.

The Blackhawks were a complete mess in the first month of the season. The team added Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Tyler Johnson over the off-season and legitimate playoff aspirations, but they kicked off the season with a nine-game losing streak.

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7. Is Chicago’s current four-game run an indication that the team is turning their season around? I’m not so sure.

The first two wins came against quality teams, the Penguins and Predators, but they also came in overtime and the shootout. The next two wins after that, both in regulation, came against two terrible teams, Arizona and Seattle.

8. Digging into the underlying numbers, it seems that Chicago has been overachieving during this little run. Since November 6 when Colliton was fired and King was brought in as a replacement, the Blackhawks rank dead last in the league in terms of shot attempt differential at even-strength. They’re second-last in terms of expected goals for percentage, based on shot volume and quality, over that same period of time.

9. One key difference for Chicago during this stretch has been some very strong play in net from Marc-Andre Fleury. In his first eight games with the Blackhawks, Fleury posted an .881 save percentage. Over his last three, all wins, Fleury has a .950 save percentage.

10. This will be the first time the Oilers and Blackhawks have played each other since… I don’t need to remind you. Let’s hope the Oilers take care of business against a lesser opponent this time around.

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