Photo: Associated Press

The last time we were talking about the Oilers we were licking our wounds and wondering how the hell a mediocre team like Edmonton had managed to put 9 (yes, NINE) goals behind our goalies inside the span of just 60 minutes. We were wondering how we could possibly give up 3 power play goals against in a single period, 4 total on the night. We marveled at the fact that our heretofore adequate backup goaltender had allowed 7 goals on just 27 shots, and also that statistically he was the better of our two netminders that night. And we wondered if the confidence we had allowed ourselves to feel after manhandling hated Vancouver 5-1 in their own rink just 3 nights prior was merely wishful thinking.

Had the Blackhawks’ success to date been just an illusion? Had they simply been playing teams that hadn’t gotten in the groove, but that were about to start making them look like the third-place finishers in the Glen Ellyn Bantam A house league? Were we about to see the Blackhawks’ season self-destruct in a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Conference opponents, putting us out of playoff contention by January 1st?

As it turns out, not so much. And as the Blackhawks’ fortunes have turned for the better in the last 45 days since that game, the Oilers’ fortunes have gotten exponentially worse…

Edmonton started the year on a tear, briefly holding down first place in the Western Conference, primarily on the back of their starting goaltender, former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulin. But things turned ugly as October yielded to November, and the Oilers started losing 2 out of every 3 games they played — which turned into losing 4 out of every 5 games during December.

To say the Oilers are slumping is like saying Amy Winehouse drank a bit too much. Edmonton comes into Chicago with the burden of a 7-game road losing streak on their backs. They currently are third-last in the Western Conference, 10 points out of a playoff spot.

And while the current team situation is grim, the master plan Oilers’ management set in motion a few years back is working to perfection. 3 of the team’s top 4 scorers are 21-year-old center Jordan Eberle, 20-year-old winger Taylor Hall, and 18-year-old center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton is drafting and developing some of the most potent young offensive players in the game. So when the rest of the team starts performing like these 3 guys are, things should really start to look better for Edmonton fans.

For the time being, however, not so much.

The Blackhawks, however, have turned things decidedly for the better following that humiliating loss in Alberta. Their record is 12-4-1 since that night, they are 8-2-0 in their last 10 outings, and they’re 14-3-3 at home on the year. Chicago sits in first place in the entire league, though it would be foolish to say that this team is dominant, or even consistently good.

The Blackhawks’ penalty killing is less than perfect, but admittedly it’s getting better. Head Coach Joel Quenneville‘s perpetual game of musical wingers that we endured last season continues even as the new year dawns, with the Patrick Kane at center experiment rearing its ugly head again last game. Scoring is clustered at the top of the lineup, with Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa providing more than half of the Blackhawks goals scored to date. The word most commonly used to describe out defense is “inconsistent,” with there still being some question about exactly who are the #3 and #4 of our top-four D-men. And the injury bug is starting to play hell with the lineup — more about that in a minute.

Then there’s the question of John Scott. (*sigh*) Don’t get me started…

The last home outing against Edmonton was much better, with much better results: a 6-3 Blackhawks victory back on November 13. With the ‘Hawks play improving of late, Edmonton’s poor performance on the road, and the home crowd standing behind them it is reasonable to assume that we will see them avenge the shellacking they received at the hands of the Oilers those weeks ago. Sweet barking cheese, they damned-well better.

Walking wounded report: Edmonton has suffered some injury problems of late which will keep defensemen Alex Plante, Taylor Fedun, and former Blackhawk Cam Barker out of the game this evening. For the ‘Hawks, Marcus Kruger remains out with a concussion — err, no, sorry… it’s pluresy. Additionally, out of nowhere defenseman Steve Montador has either sustained or re-aggravated a previous injury and is listed as “questionable” as of this writing. We will likely have more details on his status after the morning skate, keep apprised of the latest by following us on Twitter. Rookie call-up Jimmy Hayes is still with the team, and will likely be in uniform again tonight. Between the pipes it will be Corey Crawford for Chicago, Khabibulin gets the nod for Edmonton. (NOTE: The Oilers have since announced that Devan Dubnyk — shown above — will be in net tonight)

It’s a 7:30pm puck drop at the United Center, as is tradition. Comcast SportsNet has the television coverage; WGN AM-720 has the game on broadcast radio; XM customers will find the game on channel 213; and Sirius Premiere subscribers can tune in on channel 212.

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