Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers Qualifying Series Preview

Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers

The Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers qualifying Series Preview is part of a series running on Last Word on Hockey. Each of the articles will preview the teams contending in the opening round of NHL qualifying series. We will analyze the teams as well as keys to the series that may determine who moves on and who goes home. Today we examine the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers and focus on who has the edge going in.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers

The Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers qualifying series preview finds the Blackhawks still counting their blessings to be participating in the NHL qualifying series after finishing last in the Central Division before the NHL’s Pause. Normally we would be writing our season-ending autopsy as we have the last two seasons. This year, however, the struggling Original Six Franchise got a reprieve and will get to compete for the Stanley Cup. General manager Stan Bowman received a late Christmas gift that allowed him to keep his job, unlike former Team President John McDonough who was terminated. Will Bowman get to keep his job if the team bows out early? That story is yet to be written, at least for now.

The Oilers, on the other hand, were rolling their way into the post-season sitting in second place in the Pacific Division before the NHL Pause. They were in competition for first place in the division trailing the Vegas Golden Knights by only three points. They feature two absolute studs on offence which we will cover later on today. The Oilers will definitely be a handful for anyone they face in the playoffs.

Qualifying Series Preview

The Blackhawks vs Oilers qualifying series has the potential to be very entertaining. Today we are going to compare the two teams as they prepare for their play-in series which begins August 1st. We are going to cover several factors that may play a huge part in this series. Due to the NHL Pause, it is definitely difficult to predict how these games or any other games will go but we have a few keys that may help decide who comes out on top here.

The teams have a best-of-five series format for this round. As you may also know, all Western Conference games are being played in Edmonton. This gives the Oilers instant home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

For more on how the Blackhawks are preparing for the Oilers, here’s this from Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun Times who writes:

‘‘We’re going to try to extend [the scrimmages] out a little bit further, playing two periods instead of one,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We’ve been doing a lot of skating as we go. We’ll probably pull back on that.’’ 

“He also said the Hawks will spend more time tailoring their system and strategies specifically for the Oilers and do more special-teams work.”

Yes, special teams work, more on that later. That is one of our keys to this series.

2019-20 Season Record – Head-to-Head

Here are the results for the teams when they played in 2019-20. The Blackhawks defeated the Oilers back in early October, 3-1 for their first win of the young season. They didn’t play again until February when the Oilers beat the Blackhawks 5-3. Their third and final game was in early March when the Blackhawks won 4-3. That victory breathed life into the Blackhawks who started to climb back into the NHL Wild Card conversation just before the NHL Pause began.

The Blackhawks being 2-1 against the Oilers in the regular season normally would be a good barometer on what to expect when they lineup against each other now. Unfortunately, the teams being idle for several months completely erases any of that from the discussion. There are still several keys to this series that will decide who moves on.

Qualifying Series Keys

The keys to this series are goaltending, offence, and special teams. We will cover each of these as we go along today.

Blackhawks vs Oilers – Goaltending

In a series featuring stars named Kane, McDavid, Draisaitl, and Toews one would expect to begin the conversation discussing offence. That all changed on July 13th when the Blackhawks announced that two-time Cup Champion goalie Corey Crawford was deemed unfit to play in this series.

The potential loss of Crawford and its effect on the team’s goaltending now and in the future brings goaltending to the forefront today. Replacing Crawford and his skills in goal is nearly impossible. The Blackhawks started the last phase of camp with four goalies striving to fill in for “Crow” as best they can.

Then came an announcement from Crawford on July 24th  that he was out of action due to COVID but would be returning to practice that day. The news shocked everyone and brought even more questions into play. He and the Blackhawks had eight days left to prepare for the series opener against the Oilers. Would Crawford be able to get into game shape by then? If not, would he be able to contribute at some point in the series?

Crawford participated in his second practice this past Saturday and was also included on the team’s 31 man roster they turned in to the NHL. He joins Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, and Kevin Lankinen as the goaltenders going into the series. Matt Tomkins was not included on the 31 man roster.

Listed below are the goalies for both teams and their records this past season.

Blackhawks Goaltenders
  • Corey Crawford (Chicago) 16-20-3,  2.77 goals-against average,  .917 save percentage
  • Malcolm Subban (Vegas/Chicago) 9-7-3, 3.17 goals-against average, .890 save percentage
  • Collin Delia (Rockford Ice Hogs) 16-13-1, 2.66 goals-against average, .912 save percentage
  • Kevin Lankinen (Rockford Ice Hogs) 8-10-2, 3.03 goals-against-average, .909 save percentage
Oilers Goaltenders
  • Mikko Koskinen (Edmonton) 18-13-3, 2.75 goals-against average, .917 save percentage
  • Mike Smith (Edmonton) 19-12-6, 2.95 goals-against-average, .902 save percentage

The goaltending advantage goes to the Oilers based on their experience and the uncertainty facing Crawford. If he is unable to recover his stellar play in net, this area of the game may decide the series over offence and special teams that we will be covering next. The Blackhawks have got to have one or more of their goalies catch fire and stand on their heads in order to even up the goaltending matchup. If not Crawford, then the best chance of that lies in Delia or Lankinen who have the potential. Unfortunately, if one of them doesn’t play lights out this series may be over quickly.

Blackhawks vs Oilers – Offence

Offence will not be in short supply in this series. We are going to list the top three scorers this season for each team below as a comparison.

Oilers Top Three Scorers

Blackhawks Top Three Scorers

The advantage on offence goes to the Oilers who have the top two scorers in the NHL this past season in Draisaitl and McDavid. These two superstars alone are the best one-two punch offensively in the NHL and will be tough to defend. The Blackhawks will need to shut down these two as well as Nugent-Hopkins to even have a chance in this series.

The one dark horse on offence is Alex DeBrincat on the Blackhawks. For them to compete in this series, they will need “The Cat” as well as Dylan Strome to step up in a huge way offensively. If they do, there may be some real shootouts with high scoring games. Those are always entertaining to the fans but drive the coaches nuts.

Blackhawks vs Oilers – Special Teams

This key to the series is a topic that drives the Blackhawks’ faithful absolutely crazy. The past few seasons they have struggled on both penalty killing and the power play. Despite a huge improvement in their penalty killing the power play was abysmal this season.

Their penalty-killing unit was 10th in the NHL at 82.1-percent which is a complete turnaround from last season when they were the worst in the league. Their power play this season, unfortunately, was 28th in the NHL with a success rate of 15.2 percent. A team with this much talent should not be in the bottom five on the power play. The team needs much more tenacity and hard work in front of the net to be successful.

Now for the really bad news. The Oilers were first in the NHL on the power play at 29-percent. A power-play success rate that high in this series could doom the Blackhawks quickly. As for their penalty-killing unit, the Oilers were second in the NHL with a success rate of 84.4 percent. That kill rate versus the Blackhawks anemic power play is also going to make or break the series.

The advantage on special teams also goes to the Oilers who had a dominant season. The Blackhawks special teams will have to be at the top of their game to offset the talent of the Oilers red hot special teams.

Qualifying Series Prediction

Every team participating in this round is trying to re-establish themselves and get back to mid-season form in a short amount of time. If the Oilers offence and special teams gel and get anywhere close to their high level of production, this may be a very short series. Especially if Crawford does not return to his mid-season form in the net. If the Oilers struggle to recover their form, the Blackhawks will have a shot to extend the series.

Based on the news about his return from COVID, the series becomes a lot more interesting. With Crawford playing as well as he did before the NHL Pause, this series could be a toss-up destined to go five games. With a goalie recovering from COVID and inexperienced backups, the Blackhawks’ chances to advance are not good at all.

The Blackhawks’ exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night will be a good indicator going into game one between the Blackhawks and Oilers. The goalies will split time Wednesday but all eyes will be on Crawford that night. Will we see a “Great Crow” or an “Ok Crow” Wednesday?

Statistically and on paper things look very overwhelming for the Blackhawks. There may be just too much to overcome for the young team without a fully healthy playoff-ready Crawford.

Prediction with an “OK Crow” – Oilers in four

Prediction with a “Great Crow” – Oilers in five

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