a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

09/18/12 Oilers Versus: Chicago Blackhawks

Given the bleak news of the NHL lockout, Oilers Versus will bring some cheer to fans in Edmonton from an unlikely source: the Chicago Blackhawks.

Oilers' Record


3-1-0? Yes, you read that right. The Blackhawks of Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook surrendered six of eight points to the Oilers. Of course, it didn't start out so great.

The Oilers lost 6-3 on November 13th, the first game of the series between the two. The 'Hawks built a 4-1 lead by the time 22 seconds had passed in the second period and never lost control of the game.

The rematch was just six days later. Ales Hemsky had both the Oilers' first goal of the game and his first of the season just 48 seconds in, which was followed up by four more from his teammates before the first period was over. Taylor Hall completed his second career hat trick half way through the third and gave the Oilers a 9-2 lead. The crowd chanted for ten but went home happy with nine.

Devan Dubnyk stole game three of the series, stopping 39 Chicago shots for a 4-3 win; including 22 stops in the third period alone.

Then there was the biggie - the game of the season. On February 2nd, Sam Gagner tied a team record by recording eight points (4-4-8) in an 8-4 drubbing on the Blackhawks. Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall quietly had four points apiece, and Oilers fans who didn't think it could get any better than the 9-2 victory were extremely pleasantly surprised.


Oilers: 24  ---  Blackhawks: 15

This one is understandably lopsided. The Oilers averaged 6 goals for per game against the 'Hawks in 2011-12, which is reminiscent of the 80s. For whatever reason, the Oilers could seemingly score at will against Chicago. It's a good thing, too, because the Blackhawks averaged 3.75 goals for per game against Edmonton, which would normally have been plenty of scoring to take the series.

Shots on Goal

Oilers: 128  --- Blackhawks: 160

The Oilers' defense was porous, allowing an average of 40 shots by Chicago per game. What's surprising is that the Oilers managed to put an average of 32 shots per game on the Blackhawks' goal. That's 5.3 shots per game better than their season average - a very significant jump. Obviously the two teams allowed each other to run and gun, and under those circumstances the Oilers' snipers managed to come out on top.

Overall Save Percentage

Oilers: 0.906  --- Blackhawks: 0.813

Ah. There's the culprit. On the whole, Chicago's netminders were terrible against Edmonton. Bad luck? Bad goalies? The skill of the Oilers' youth? Probably a combination of the three. Dubnyk and Khabibulin split duties in this series, but it was the younger goalie who shined in the latter two games. Dubnyk had a 0.921 Sv% in his two starts, despite facing a whopping 89 shots on goal.


Oilers: 8/22 (36.4%)  --- Blackhawks: 3/18 (16.6%)

16.6% is not a terribly unsuccessful powerplay by any means, but it looks feeble against a unit that's clicking over 36% of the time. The Oilers scored on every three powerplay opportunities and they had at least one PPG in every game of the series. In the 9-2 win the Oil connected four times with the extra man on seven total chances.

Penalty Kill

Oilers: 15/18 (83.4%)  --- Blackhawks: 14/22 (63.6%)

With the special teams stats flipped we can see how truly terrible the Blackhawks were when killing penalties in this series. The Oilers hovered slightly above their season average (82.4%), but Chicago's 63.6% mark is 13% lower than the worst penalty killing team this past season (Columbus; shocker). Interestingly, the Blackhawks actually were a bad PK team all year long, finishing 27th in the discipline at just 78.1%. That's thirteen spots below the Oilers.


Have the Chicago Blackhawks done enough this off season to keep from being embarrassed by teams like the Oilers? Probably not. The goalie tandem of Crawford/Emery remains in place, and the overall makeup of the team is pretty much the same as it was in 2011-12. This was still a playoff team thanks to the sixth-best offense in the league, but they've proved more than once that it takes more than scoring to build a winner.

The Oilers are in a similar position, though their offense has yet to blossom at the level the Blackhawks are now used to. If Devan Dubnyk turns into a legitimate starting goaltender then the Oilers are in good shape, but if he wavers like Crawford or Emery then things could get ugly in a hurry. In the end, the games between Edmonton and Chicago will be goaltending duels even though it doesn't look that way at all. Both teams are capable of scoring goals, but it will be down to which goalie stops the last puck that decides the fate of their games.

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