Oilers begin road trip against powerful Blackhawks

A nine-game road trip is no easy task. Opening said journey against the best team in the NHL is just unfair.

The Edmonton Oilers, though, won't get any sympathy on Monday night, when they try to deal the Chicago Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the season in the first game of a two-week swing.

The Oilers jump right into the fire on a road trip that runs through March 12, taking on a Blackhawks club that leads the NHL with 15 victories and 33 points. Chicago is riding an NHL-record streak of 18 straight games to open the season with a point (15-0-3), surpassing the previous record of 16 held by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks.

"To play the best team in the National Hockey League right off the bat is exciting for us," said Oilers coach Ralph Krueger.

"We feel extremely confident that we're going to give them a difficult night and we're going there to do everything to try and win. It would be more than an honor to end that streak."

Edmonton does have something to lean on as it won three of four versus Chicago last season, including wins of 9-2 and 8-4 at home. The Oilers have also won three of their last four in the Windy City.

Sam Gagner had a historic night in the last meeting on Feb. 2, 2011 in Edmonton as he tied a franchise record for most points in a single game with eight in an 8-4 home victory. He scored four goals and notched four assists to match the mark held by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.

The 23-year-old former first-round pick has logged a point in 14 of his 17 games this season and leads Edmonton with 17 points. He had an assist in Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes and also had one of the two goals in the breakaway session.

Jordan Eberle also scored in the shootout after getting Edmonton on the board in regulation, scoring with 3:38 left in the second period to help his club rally from two goals down. Teemu Hartikainen tied the game on a power-play goal at 8:04 of the third and Nikolai Khabibulin made 34 saves and another two stops in the shootout.

The victory allowed the Oilers to snap a two-game slide and wrap a five-game homestand with a 2-3-0 mark. They also improved to 4-3-2 when trailing after two periods this season.

"We were very disappointed with the last few games and the importance, the magnitude of these points, was clear. To be down 2-0 was a real test of our meddle and test of our makeup. The team stayed with it," said Krueger, who also praised his team's 5-on-5 play.

"More than anything, a compliment to the team to come back down 2-0 in a game of this magnitude. To go on the road with these points gives us some good energy here that we desperately needed."

The Oilers will open their road trip without forward Taylor Hall, who served the first of a two-game suspension on Saturday for an illegal hit on the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck in Thursday's 3-1 loss. He had five goals and 10 points in the four meetings with the Blackhawks last season.

Edmonton will hope to catch Chicago with tired legs after the Blackhawks gutted out a 1-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday to keep its point streak alive. It was the fifth victory in a row for the 'Hawks and moved them to 5-0-1 on a seven-game homestand that ends with this game.

After sitting out the previous four games due to injury, Corey Crawford returned to action for the first time since Feb. 12 and stopped 28 shots for his second shutout of the season and seventh of his career.

"I just focus on whatever comes at me, but our guys did a good job to let me see pucks, clear rebounds and a couple times made some big blocks on a couple backdoor plays," Crawford said. "It feels good to get back in there and play again."

Andrew Shaw scored the lone goal for Chicago, which is 7-0-1 at home this season, but was put to the test by a Columbus squad that sits last in the NHL with 12 points.

That didn't surprise Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who knows teams will bring plenty of energy into the United Center.

"I would expect the opponents to be excited about coming into this building, regardless of where we're at," he said. "I just think that there's no easy games. If you think you're going to get an easy game, you're not going to get through it."

Patrick Sharp (3 goals, 2 assists) and Patrick Kane (1g, 4a) both had five points in four games versus the Oilers last season.