SUN Hockey Pool

No time for R and R

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Through all the peaks and valleys, injuries and slumps, the Edmonton Oilers head into tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks with an opportunity to break even.

A win over the Blackhawks would give the Oilers a .500 record heading into the Christmas Break.

"If you would have proposed that - giving us this opportunity - before we started that last road trip, we would have taken it," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "The one thing you want to avoid is getting visited by the R and R sisters - Regret and Remorse.

"They paid a visit (yesterday) morning and now we have to bounce back. The one thing I always like to use for motivation is that you don't want to have any regrets, you don't want to have a bunch of missed opportunities."

The Oilers had that sense yesterday, failing to seize an opportunity to climb above the .500 mark for the first time this season.

BREAK-EVEN POINT

The team has been chasing the mark since the fourth game of the year, and at a couple of different points in the season slipped to five games under the break-even point.

"Considering what has gone around here in the first couple of months, .500 would be nice, sure," said Oilers centre Jarret Stoll. "That's a goal we want to reach here. It takes one win to get it. Then we get a little break to get refreshed and ready for the second half I guess.

"Maybe we can go on a roll in the second half and make a run for the playoffs. We're not out of it by any means."

Considering the Oilers injury situation, it's almost a wonder they're still treading water. They spent an early part of the season without two of their best defenceman in Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen.

Fernando Pisani was out with ulcerative colitis, which put his future in doubt. And their newly named captain Ethan Moreau has yet to play a game recovering from a broken foot. Heading into tonight's game the Oilers have lost more than 150 man-games due to injury.

"We're close, we're right there," Stoll said. "We just need better execution, better focus in some games and we don't want to be going into shootouts as much as we have been either.

"We've had some chances to put teams away and we haven't done it lately. The longer we keep teams in it, give them life and let them hang around, it seems like we get bit in the butt."

Now with Souray and Pitkanen back on the blue line, Pisani returning to form, Moreau now days away instead of weeks and with a pair of hot goaltenders, the Oilers have the tools in place to make a run after the Christmas Break.

SOME DISTANCE

Now instead of chasing .500, they can try to put some distance between them and the break-even mark - that is, of course, if they're able to get past the Blackhawks tonight.

"They're a good team," MacTavish said. "They play a high-tempo game, they have a lot of skill, they move the puck well from the back end and they have good goaltending. The record seldom lies - they are quite an improvement. We had a handful with them here. We won the game, but they came at us hard. We won the game, but they had the ability to pick up the offensive play."

The Oilers beat the 'Hawks 3-2 in their previous meeting this season with Sam Gagner scoring the shootout winner.

Last season the Oilers lost both games in Chicago at a time when the Blackhawks were one of the worst teams in the league.

With the addition of super-rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the 'Hawks are a playoff contender.

"We haven't had very good goaltending in that building the last little while," MacTavish said. "We're seemingly behind a lot in Chicago. We have to focus in on a good start and make sure that doesn't happen and give ourselves a chance to win the hockey game."


Videos

Photos