"Duncs said what?"

The reaction following Monday’s loss to Calgary was swift and severe. Duncan Keith’s F-bomb from the post-game interview expressed the frustration felt by players, coaches and fans alike: no matter what the solution is, the ‘Hawks need to find it. Fast.

Tonight’s game will most likely tell the tale. Are the Blackhawks going to learn from this, get their shit together and start playing like they are capable of? Or are they going to fold and let the teams in the highly-competitive Western Conference relegate them to the “also-ran” category for the post-season?

Tuesday the Blackhawks were greeted at practice with what’s called a ‘bag skate.’ The precise origin of the phrase is a point of contention, but the definition is undisputed: doing skating drills so hard for so long that somebody starts shouting groceries. Watch the movie ‘Miracle’ for a classic example. In pre-season it is sometimes used to help whip summer-softened players into game shape. With 30 games to go in the regular season, this was punishment.

So the message has been sent, and received. Monday’s performance was crap, it won’t be tolerated, and the time to start playing up to expectations is right fucking now.

Thusly, Edmonton makes the perfect opponent for the first game after the colon-emptying disgrace that was the Calgary contest. The Oilers are dead last in the league, 20 points out of a playoff spot, and have a 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games. In short, Edmonton sucks monkey meat, and there is no way on God’s green earth that the Blackhawks should lose this one. Put another way, if the Blackhawks *don’t* win tonight, we should start thinking about next year.

The biggest weakness for the Oilers is goaltending. Their “starter,” former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulin, owns a .891 save percentage, regularly lets in 3 or more goals per game, and hasn’t notched a win since December 16th. Youngster Devan Dubnyk is only marginally better, but has managed to notch the last 3 wins that the Oilers have earned. Dubnyk is who the ‘Hawks will be facing tonight.

Offense is modest and somewhat evenly distributed, though Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner and rookie phenom Taylor Hall hold down the top spots in most scoring categories. Defensively the Oilers have been led by Ryan Whitney, who has 27 points and stands at +13 so far this season. On a team with nearly 50 more goals against than goals scored, that’s astonishing. Fortunately for us, Whitney is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

The Oilers are dead last in power play percentage, dead last in penalty kill percentage, and dead last in face-off win percentage. Sweet barking cheese, guys. If we can’t beat this team, Stan had better be on the phone to Edmonton and firing somebody that very minute.

The pre-trade-deadline lunatic watch: Jonathan Toews was given a pass on the morning skate today, which according to reports was another brutal exercise. Word was that this was just a maintenance day for him, but that didn’t stop some Twitter nut-job from screaming from the rafters that he had been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Brett Lebda. This is about as likely as the ‘Hawks trading Nick Boynton and getting more than a keg of warm moose piss in return. Also, despite wishful thinking in Edmonton, Brent Seabrook will not be in an Oilers uniform tonight — or, ever.

Administrative nonsense: the aforementioned Whitney injury will keep him from suiting up tonight, and Gilbert Brule is out with the flu. The Blackhawks are nearly all healthy, though John Scott is still recuperating from a bout with the flu. Expect Scott and center Ryan Johnson (lower body, though skating with the team) to be scratched, as well as Jordan Hendry. Corey Crawford is the announced starter for the Blackhawks.

8:30pm start time this evening. TV coverage is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 205.

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