The Hawks’ Circus Trip makes its second stop tonight, this time a little bit further north in Alberta to take on the Oilers, who are currently in year 8 (thousand) of their rebuild. This will be the Hawks’ first of two to Edmonton this year, and the first chance to appreciate the odd lighting, backwards benches and penalty boxes, and the interminable prattle about how fast the ice is (it’s fast).
The Oilers come in to this evening having been shut out less than 24 hours ago by the Devils. Yes, the Devils. Backup Victor Fasth allowed 2 goals on 26 shots, but his counterpart Corey Schneider was able to outduel him. That means that The Professor, Ben Scrivens will get the call in net tonight for the Oil. Scrivens has not fared as well as he did last year after coming over in a trade from LA and earning a two year contract, with his save percentage dipping to a very Oilers-like .895. In fact, Scrivens has not appeared in an Oilers win since October 27th when he shut out the Canadiens at home, and has allowed two or more goals in every single one of those starts. Of course, this is still the guy who set the record for most saves in a shutout last year against the Sharks with 59 saves in a 60 minute game, so he is fully capable of slamming the door shut in the face of an onslaught from an offensive team.
Of course, this being the Oilers, the blue line in front of Scrivens has done him zero favors. While the majority of the corps minus captain and ostensible #1 Andrew Ference is offensively gifted and can keep the attack moving the other way (only Mark Fayne and the scratched Nikita Nikitn are below water in possession), their defensive zone coverage can still be puzzling at best most times. Justin Schultz is still best utilized when as far away from his own net as possible, but given the lack of other reasonable options, he’s playing upwards of 22 minutes a night. Jeff Petry is large, stable, often angry, and has the best share of attempts among Oilers regulars at 52.63%, but his actual offensive upside is limited.
The supposed strength of the Oilers, their forward corps with a seemingly endless supply of top 5 picks, has actually been less than impressive to this point in the season as well. They’re putting up 30 shots a night and are just barely above water in their share of attempts, good for middle of the pack in both regards (which obviously validates Tyler Dellow as a genius), but much like the Hawks, they’re having trouble actually putting the puck in the net. And with Benoit Pouliot going down last night, one of the Oilers’ free agent acquisitions as a fancy stats darling, that climb might get a little tougher. The Oilers are shooting 6.96% as a team which is a little under par, but not so much so that it’s due for a season trajectory altering correction. Coach Dallas Eakins has been matching up his top line of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and RNH against the other team’s best fairly regularly, but it’d be shocking if he tossed them at the Toews line tonight with last change.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the Rockford Shuffle continues, this time with Philip Danault making his NHL debut centering Bryan Bickell and Gorilla Salad. Without last change tonight it would stand to reason that Joel Quenneville would cut this line’s time considerably compared to the other units. Danault was drafted back in 2011 with the first round pick acquired from the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, and has been one of the only Hawks prospects to actually remain at center the entire time. His game has been billed as responsible but with offensive upside, garnering comparisons to both Dave Bolland and Marcus Kruger. Hopefully as a first round pick he’s able to provide a little bit more offense than either of those two have in their careers, but as of right now he has a grand total of 36 points in 86 AHL games.
Danault’s debut is indicative of a couple of things. First, it’s already been stated that Andrew Shaw will be doubtful for tomorrow night’s game in Vancouver, and there’s little doubt that he’s suffering a case of the dizzies as a result of his fight with Antoine Roussel on Sunday. It also means that Q would rather not have Ben Smith at center if he can at all avoid it. Smith might excel in spot duty at the faceoff dot, but clearly he and Kruger are most effective when together, and having another center on the roster allows for that. It’s also a clear sign that Quenneville would rather not have to play Jeremy Morin if he can at all avoid doing so, and having an extra forward on the roster allows him to do just that.
Adam Clendening will once again be paired with Michal Rozsival on the third defensive unit, having shown quite a bit to like in Calgary at both even strength and on the power play. Clendening had a team best +7 corsi rating on Thursday, and was on the ice for 3 of the Hawks 4 goals, and none against. Antti Raanta gets his first start in almost a month tonight with the Hawks also playing tomorrow night in Vancouver. Raanta is smaller and unorthodox in stature and style respectively, so he’s forced to challenge shooters more. And though the Oilers are struggling offensively, they do not lack skill, particularly of the east-west variety. If they have the time and space to make Raanta move, it could get ugly in a hurry tonight as it has a couple times in the recent past at Rexall.
Of course, the mantra for the Hawks going the other way is shoot at any point possible as well. Though Scrivens clearly has the ability to do somersaults in the crease and steal a game on his own, he’s been struggling lately and getting bombarded by shots from all angles won’t let him settle in and get comfortable. Either way, look for an up and down affair tonight. Let’s go Hawks.