Oilers brace for Blackhawks duo

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers have seen their share of dynamic duos this season.

Tonight, they'll be up against one of the best in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Come to think of it, the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks aren't too shabby either.

"They're obviously great players and they've shown that over the course of their careers," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "The big thing for us is having respect for them, because they're one of the better teams in the league. But at the same time, we can't give them too much respect.

"We feel like we've done that this year, especially in their building.

"Hopefully here at home, we're intense, we're not playing to passive, we're taking the game to them and can come out with the two points. It's a big game for us to try and get back on the right page."

Kane, 21, leads the Blackhawks in scoring with 21 goals and 36 assists on the season. The top overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft had 25 goals all of last year.

"He loves to score, but he's a smart guy and he knows what his strengths are," said Gagner, a junior teammate of the Buffalo native. "He can pass the puck with the best players in the league and he knows that. He uses that to his advantage as much as possible. He's a guy that we really have to key on, try to take away his time and space and try to make him less effective."

Toews is third in team scoring behind defenceman Duncan Keith with 17 goals and 25 assists on the season. The Blackhawks captain will be a member of Canada's Olympic team next month.

"They are young guys that have made quantum leaps in how they've played and in their confidence levels," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. "They're surrounded by talent.

"That was a bad team for a long time, but their drafting was good, their coaching has helped in putting them together and their goaltending is solid.

"They're getting good pieces to that hockey team and it really supports the kind of players that Toews and Kane are."

The Blackhawks come into the contest having lost 5-1 in Vancouver on Saturday.

The Oilers have already lost to the Blackhawks twice this season and were pounded at home by the Central Division leaders 9-2 last season.

"They have great skating ability, that's what they really do well," said Quinn. "And their kids have great offensive skill and they've been given that freedom to play with that skill.

"They hold the puck well and from the back end, they're terrific passers. They can move that puck up as well as anybody. To me, they're the best transition team in the league right now."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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