Nail Yakupov Shortly After Opening N64 on Christmas

And the beat goes on… Just 24 hours after shutting out Columbus and extending their points streak to 18 to open the lockout abbreviated campaign, the Blackhawks once again go to the ice at the United Center against a bottom 5 team in their conference. A game the Blackhawks would like to have prior to heading on to proper competition in St. Louis on Thursday. The Oil have been a bit of an up and down group, something you’d expect out of a young team like this. Tonight they’ll be without Taylor Hall after his indefensible knee dust up with Cal Clutterbuck. It’s the last game he’ll miss before returning to action.

Still, up front Edmonton is a creative, albeit unstructured, group. Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are the young guns running with the fragile but effective Ales Hemsky and Captain Canada himself, Ryan Smyth. We’d be remiss to not mention Sam Gagner, ye of the 8 point mushroom stamping that began the February Funk last winter.

It’s not the top six where Edmonton will struggle to compete with the Hawks but rather the Hawks depth. It’ll make how Joel Quenneville matches up his lines in the potential absence of Dave Bolland that much more of a critical decision. This isn’t the pylon parade the Jackets trotted out last night. Yesterday’s goal from Andrew Shaw and the third line was the difference maker, the only tally of the contest. Their effectiveness against parking cones Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry could be the difference in an easy win and one that we are again made to sweat out until the final seconds. That 4th line of Frolik-Mayers-Carcillo will need to be defensively responsible and soak up some top QualComp time, giving the Toews and 88-10 groups greater time to exploit the paste eaters like Ben Eager.

In the cages we’re going to be blessed with the presence of old friend Nik Khabibulin. They’ve apparently been able to confirm that he’ll be dried out in time for tonight’s contest. With Corey Crawford having pitched a 28 save shutout, it makes the decision a little more curious for Joel Quenneville. He could ride the hot hand or rest Crawford in a back-to-back since he’s coming off an injury. Either netminder can have a case made in their favor tonight.

On the back end, the Oilers are forever once again without Ryan Whitney who was hit by a snowball while picking up his kids from school. Actually, the 30 year old has simply been dreadful so “healthy scratch” is probably the label he’ll get tonight. The Schultz’ will carry most of the weight at even strength for the Oil, a combined -15 between the two of them. In fact, only Mark Fistric is operating at a plus right now. Whether that’s a beneficiary of being the lowest shifted Oiler blue liner at 21 shifts a game or actual good play, that’s up for debate. When you’re likely missing the contributions that a Jim Vandermeer provided the season prior, it’s probably time to start using some of those top draft picks on the backend.

But honestly, there’s little more I can add here. This team is not good. At least, not yet.

Chicago has had their fair share of trouble with a team who’s been the benefactor of three straight number one draft picks the last few years. On the 2nd half of a back-to-back the Hawks will want to run away and hide early. The competition may be better than last night’s affair, but it’s not by much. Go for Toews in a row to start the year with a point giving us a chance for 20 in the hive of denim and Bud Light.