Caught in a shooting gallery

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Oh, so that's why Nikolai Khabibulin didn't seem all that excited about going back to Chicago.

Having played there three seasons, he knows all about his old team's firepower and elite level skill. And having watched the Oilers lately, he knows they've been getting badly outshot.

So how excited would any goalie be about sailing into that kind of perfect storm?

Turns out he had every reason to heed his own forecast as the Blackhawks used him for 60-minutes' worth of target practice last night at the United Center.

"That's the way they play, they want to put a lot of pucks on the net, they crash the net and look for the rebounds," said Khabibulin, whose beleaguered team was outshot 16-6 in the first, 14-4 in the second and 38-19 overall in the 4-3 loss. "To beat them we all have to have a good game. I have to have a better game, we all have to have a better game."

No faulting the goalie on this one. Aside from a late third period Oilers rally, it was all Chicago all the time. Khabibulin looked like a little yellow duck in the carnival shooting gallery.

"It seemed like they had their legs early and we kind of sat back and watched," said Mike Comrie. "When you watch for two periods it makes the game a lot harder. Khabibulin played really well, it's frustrating to come up a little short like that knowing we didn't play two very good periods.

"You have to be ready to play in today's game, especially against teams like Chicago that come at you hard."

Outshot 35-19 against Montreal and 41-20 in Nashville, the Oilers got away with it and won both times, but you don't give a team like Chicago 38 looks without sustaining serious damage.

And it started early. First shot, first goal. Just 51 seconds after the opening faceoff Patrick Sharp put one just inside the far post and it was 1-0 Hawks. Welcome back.

"Getting off to a good start is key," said Sharp. "And we carried it through the whole game."

Yup. Andrew Cogliano squared it 1:39 later, but Chicago owned the period. They were on the Oilers like Patrick Kane on a cabbie. Only a handful of fantastic Khabibulin saves kept it from getting ridiculous.

His team badly outskilled and outskated, Quinn moved Patrick O'Sullivan to the first line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff to start the second period. Nothing. It was still all Hawks. They made it 3-1 on Kris Versteeg's goal at 9:12 and had a chance to go up 4-1 on Sharp's penalty shot at 17:01, but Khabibulin turned him away.

"We had a simple game plan, get it behind their D, get in on the forecheck and be physical," said Ladislav Smid.

"We didn't really do it in the first 20 minutes and they used that against us. There were way too many easy breakouts for them. They scored easy goals, pretty much. That was the fastest team we faced this season and it was a good test for us."

Outshot 30-10 through 40 minutes, Edmonton had one last chance to regroup with the score still close enough to come back.

It was a wild finish, with Dustin Penner's goal at 10:43 closing it to 3-2, Cam Barker's screened point shot on the power play restoring the two-goal lead at 17:18 and Denis Grebeshkov's power play goal with the net empty closing it to 4-3. But that's where the comeback ended.

The Oilers are 3-2-1 heading home for tomorrow's game with Minnesota.

Late hits ...

Steve Staios didn't play last night and didn't even take the pre-game skate as he tries to shake off his post concussion symptoms. Word is that Sheldon Souray isn't feeling much better in Edmonton, He hasn't skated since Jarome Iginla tripped him into the end boards ... Edmonton Capitals manager Brent Bowers, who lives in Chicago, stopped by the Oilers dressing room before the game ... Jillian Harris, the Alberta-born star of The Bachelorette, also lives in Chicago now and took part in a between-periods shootout.

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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