Road-weary Blackhawks take on rested Oilers (Feb 11, 2017)
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Chicago Blackhawks will go into Edmonton for their third game in four nights. The Oilers will be coming off the league-mandated bye week.
So, when the two teams meet Saturday at Rogers Place, one team may be dealing with tired legs, the other trying to shake the rust out of its game. This game is a perfect example of how the league-mandated bye weeks in the midst of a compressed schedule can lead to one very, very, well-rested team playing another in the teeth of a grueling stretch.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said that his team has had to use every bit of their downtime to re-energize. That means fewer practices.
"Every year is different, and our schedule is very condensed this year," she said. "Our guys have played a lot of games, our older guys for sure, meaningful games. We find we are at our best when we are rested and we come ready to play the games and use the time away from the rink to get energized... Rest is important, and practice can be overrated."
The Blackhawks beat the Jets by a 5-2 count on Friday night, extending their win streak to four games. Center Jonathan Toews has five points in four February games, while Artemi Panarin enjoyed a three-point night against the Jets.
Toews's recent success is linked to his new set of wingers. The line of Toews, Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz was out together after the all-star break.
"When you start playing well, you start getting the feel of what it's like to play with a couple of linemates," said Toews. "So, you want to continue to build on that confidence and continue to... be predictable and make plays and know where everyone's going to be on the ice."
While the Blackhawks played in Winnipeg, the Oilers got back to the ice for a late Friday afternoon practice after five days away. The team's schedule over the past couple of weeks has been bizarre; the Oilers enjoyed the All-Star break after going on a 7-0-1 run; they came back, played four games in six days -- losing three of them -- then got their bye week.
During that four-game stretch between the All-Star break and the bye week, the Oilers scored just three goals. But the Oilers remain in a comfortable position in the Pacific Division standings, in the thick of the hunt for top spot.
"They're trying to figure out a five-day break after a four-day break," said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. "It's just a confusing time for a lot of teams right now. It is what it is, we've known about it for a long time, so we can't say we're not prepared."
He said that "coming out of a break like this, we're going to stay with some familiarity," so don't expect a rethinking of the Oilers lines.
Oilers defenseman Matthew Benning, who was knocked out of last Friday's loss in Carolina, was on the ice for practice, as was defenseman Darnell Nurse, who has been out since Dec. 1 with a broken ankle. McLellan said Benning will be OK to go Saturday, while Nurse is still a ways away from getting back to game action.
Oilers goalie Cam Talbot didn't practice. His flight back to Edmonton was held up and he wasn't back in time for practice.
There is one remarkable Oilers streak that has, so far, gone the entire season. Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom is working on what would be a remarkable achievement; a penalty-less campaign. Klefbom has played 55 games. He plays more than 20 minutes a night. Yet, he has yet to take a penalty. No minors, no majors.
There are other players in the NHL who have yet to take a penalty in the 2016-2017 season. But only one, Buffalo's Tyler Ennis, has played more than 20 games this season. And none of them have played more than 25.
"I just want to make it easy on the team," Klefbom said.
Klefbom's remarkable stretch imitates that of Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. While he was one of the dominant defenseman of the 1990s and 2000s, the Red Wings legend had several seasons where he didn't amass even 20 penalty minutes. Lidstrom was famous for knowing where to be on the ice; and because he was in the right place at the right time, he didn't need to hook, hold or trip his opponents.
"He's my biggest inspiration, he's my idol, for sure," said Klefbom. "I don't think the Swedes back home understand how big he is here, still. That's because he was so good on the ice. He was not the most physical guy, but he was always at the right spot. He played solid, played a lot of minutes and was just smart out there."
The Oilers recalled defenseman Jordan Oesterle and center Anton Lander from their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. Both players were up with the Oilers before the mandated bye week, and were down in the AHL during the NHL parent club's time off.