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Facing McDavid and Keith, Trio Lead IceHogs Over Rivals, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

After winning four-straight games, the Chicago Blackhawks must be feeling pretty good. I know I am.

After a 1-9-2 start to the year, earning eight points out of their last possible eight was the best remedy for what felt like hopelessness for the on-ice product. You are tasked with beating the teams put in front of you, and although the last four wins for Chicago came against teams in the bottom-third of the league, they were wins all the same. Now, feeling a bit fat and happy, Chicago’s first tough task under the new Derek King era of hockey comes at them tonight in Edmonton. The Oilers boast one of the best offensive attacks in the NHL, headed by the two leading scorers in the NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

•   McDavid’s the best hockey player on the planet right now and has made opponents look absolutely silly on a seemingly nightly basis. Recently, he carved through the New York Rangers on a one-on-four highlight reel goal and then did exactly the same thing a few nights ago against the Winnipeg Jets. With his skillset and the ineptitude of the Blackhawks defense when it comes to gap control and slowing rush attempts, McDavid has to be salivating at the chance to face Chicago tonight.

•   Um, I hope you spend enough time focusing about him…

•   McDavid is not the only offensive option with the Oilers, so yes, I understand you cannot focus your entire defensive strategy against him. Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman are just a few of the other Oilers options that Chicago will have to neutralize. Edmonton ranks second in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.81) and is tenth in the league in shots on goal per game (32.8). They are also tied for fifth in the league at winning faceoffs (53.8), so they know how to possess the puck and create offense.

•   Getting Brandon Hagel back into the lineup will be a huge addition for Chicago. Hagel has been one of, if not the most effective forward when in the lineup this season for the Blackhawks. While he’s not the top point-producer on the club, his effectiveness on the ice for Chicago goes beyond the scoresheet. Hagel is sixth in the Blackhawks forwards group for ice-time this season at 16:20 minutes per game, but less than three minutes per game come on special teams. All six of Hagel’s points this season have come at even-strength and he ranks first on the team in Corsi-For% (55.37), Shots-For% (53.13), and Scoring Chances-For% (51.57), as well as ranking second in High-Danger Chances-For% (55.00) and Expected Goals-For% (47.26) all at 5v5.

•   Defensively for the Oilers, things are a much different story than up front. While the offensive attack can come at you from a number of angles and is led by McDavid and Draisaitl, their defense is playing less-than desirable. Edmonton is allowing the most shots on goal per game this season with 34.4. At 5v5 even-strength, they rank 23rd in the league in Shots-For% (48.36), 23rd in High-Danger Chances-For% (46.95), and 26th in Save% (.912). Now on top of that, they will be without top defenseman Darnell Nurse.

•   Nurse is playing the most minutes per game of any Oilers player at 26:06, which also ranks him fifth-most per game in the NHL. Behind Nurse are Evan Bouchard and Duncan Keith, both of whom will now see an increase in ice-time.

•   For Keith, tonight will be the first time he is facing his former club. The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus caught-up with Keith prior to  tonight’s game against the Blackhawks and talked with the future Hall of Famer about his exit from the organization, being closer to home, and the fallout from the Kyle Beach sexual assault investigation.

•   This is a must-read ahead of tonight’s first up-close look at Keith in another sweater. It will be weird for everyone.

•   In the AHL last night, the Rockford IceHogs took on their rival Chicago Wolves. After getting out to an early 2-0 deficit, the IceHogs were able to climb back into the game and out-score the Wolves 6-1 over the final 46 minutes of the game. Leading the way last night for the IceHogs were the top-line trio of Brett Connolly, Lukas Reichel, and Alex Nylander.

•   Connolly netted the game’s first goal for the IceHogs, extending his point-streak to six games where he has four goals and five assists over that span. Reichel and Nylander both assisted on Connolly’s goal, extending a point-streak for Reichel to four games, where he has four goals and three assists over that span. Both Reichel and Nylander also scored in the game, a 6-3 win for Rockford.

•   While it looked early-on this season that Lukas Reichel should have been the clear-cut first recall to the Blackhawks, it’s become a three-man “race” as the veteran Connolly and the once-maligned Nylander have made strong cases to come back to the NHL roster. The problem for these three, though, is that there isn’t a clear-cut spot for them with the Blackhawks at the moment. Unless a major injury occurs (hopefully not), or a forward falls off a cliff productively speaking, there might be no room for either player for a while.

•   In other AHL news, the Utica Comets are soaring to begin the season with a league-record 12-straight wins to begin the year.

•   Get it? Comets. Soaring.

•   We’ll end with some great news today. In his first game since coming forward as “John Doe” in the Brad Aldrich sexual assault investigation, Kyle Beach netted two goals in his team’s 8-2 win in the German third-tier Oberliga.

•   Beach has four goals and five assists this season in eight games for Black Dragons Erfurt. Awesome for him.

•   That will do it for today. Hope you all have a good Saturday ahead of you, maybe even going to Wrigley to see the Northwestern-Purdue game!

•   We will see you tonight, another late one, for Blackhawks-Oilers at 9:00 p.m. CT!



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.