Connor McDavid

How Blackhawks will try to limit Oilers' Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl

How Blackhawks will try to limit Oilers' Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl

Unless you're just now finding out about a sport called hockey, you know that Edmonton Oilers forwards Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid led the NHL in points during the regular season with 110 and 97, respectively. And you also know that the Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them in trying to limit the two's offensive productivity beginning Saturday at Edmonton in a best-of-five qualifying round series with the winner advancing to Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think those are pretty elite players and I don’t think you’re ever going to full shut them down," Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said via Zoom from Edmonton on Thursday. "You’re just trying to limit their opportunities, force them to play without the puck as much as possible, keep them off the power play, all those things. Not telling you guys anything you don’t already know. If we give them three power plays in the first period, they’re going to gain a lot of confidence in that. It's important we’re not taking stick penalties in particular and force them to defend. Control the puck, force them to play D zone. Obviously their transition game is speed, with which they can create scoring chances. These are all things we’ve talked about."

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Staying out of the box should indeed be part of the plan in attempting to keep Draisaitl and McDavid off the scoresheet. The pair combined for 87 points on the man advantage before the NHL pause.

In 5-on-5 play, the two forwards played on the same line the first two months of the regular season before splitting up. They were apart in the Oilers' Phase 3 training camp and in their exhibition game on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.

Related: Blackhawks' third line ready to be difference-maker in Oilers series

Colliton expects to see both looks with Draisaitl and McDavid from the Oilers.

"Obviously it’s a different challenge when you play them together. Definitely high powered and you have to throw everything you have at them to handle it. When they play apart, particularly with how much they can play, feels like they’ll both be on the ice most of the game. I’m sure we’ll see them together, I’m sure we’ll see them apart, and we have to be prepared for it."

The Blackhawks-Oilers series begins on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT.

How Edmonton Oilers' lines have looked at their Phase 3 training camp

How Edmonton Oilers' lines have looked at their Phase 3 training camp

As the Blackhawks head to Edmonton on Sunday to hold a few more practices before the NHL's 24-team postseason is in full swing and they're facing the hometown Oilers, let's take a look at how the Hawks' qualifying round opponent's lineup has materialized at their camp.

Edmonton rolled out lines on Day 1 and there have only been a couple adjustments since, as seen in how personnel was divided for the team's scrimmage on Saturday

Since before camp even started, the biggest question surrounding the Oilers' lineup was: would Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the NHL's top two leaders in points during the regular season, be broken up or play on a line together like they did for the first two months this year?

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From the start of camp up to yesterday's scrimmage, the two have been separated. Edmonton coach Dave Tippett must hold confidence in splitting up their offense across the top two lines against Chicago vs. loading them up on one again.

In the best-of-five qualifying round series, the Blackhawks are likely to see the following lineup from the Oilers:
 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Connor McDavid -- Zach Kassian

Tyler Ennis -- Leon Draisaitl -- Kailer Yamamoto

Andreas Athanasiou -- Riley Sheahan -- Josh Archibald

James Neal -- Jujhar Khaira -- Alex Chiasson

Oscar Klefbom -- Adam Larsson

Darnell Nurse -- Ethan Bear

Kris Russell -- Matt Benning

Mikko Koskinen

Mike Smith

 

There hasn't been many adjustments since the start of the Oilers' camp. One notable alteration was the team recently swapping the second and third line left wings. Tyler Ennis got bumped up to Draisaitl's line and Athanasiou dropped down to the third line centered by Sheahan.  

Tippett previously said in camp that he expects both Koskinen and Smith to get in during the series with the Hawks, but hasn't let on to who his No. 1 goalie might be yet. Over the past two Oilers' practice games, Smith has allowed 12 goals and Koskinen four.

Nurse was deemed "unfit to play" for Saturday's scrimmage, but is expected to participate in the team's next practice. Sheahan left the scrimmage early and was also labeled "unfit to play." He and Nurse reportedly watched the remainder of the scrimmage from the stands.

Before the Oilers take on the Hawks in the play-in series on Aug. 1, they'll play the Calgary Flames in an exhibition game on Tuesday. The Blackhawks will face the St. Louis Blues for an exhibition contest on Wednesday. 

How Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek would defend Oilers' Connor McDavid

How Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek would defend Oilers' Connor McDavid

Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek began this year as an extra defenseman for the first half of the season. After injuries to Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan helped him slide in for the second half, he showed a reliable game.

"This season, it’s never easy being the odd-man out to start the season. I’d done it before in Tampa," Koekkoek said after Sunday's practice. "It’s tough mentally and I think the guys respect me around here, that I come to work every day and work hard, ultimately it paid off halfway through the season, due to injuries or an opportunity I ran with. 

"It went well for me in the second half, great chemistry with Olli. We work so well because off the ice, we’re close friends and like to do stuff together. I think that plays a part. Thought we worked well."

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Koekkoek, 26, was acquired by the Blackhawks from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 11, 2019 via a trade and was given a one-year contract extension following last season.

The blueliner has been skating on the Hawks' second defensive pairing with Maatta the past couple days at Phase 3 training camp with Calvin de Haan dealing with a family emergency and Connor Murphy being ruled "unfit to play". 

Slater is likely to be in the Hawks' lineup if and when de Haan and Murphy return for the Aug. 1 start of the Blackhawks and Oilers' qualifying round series for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Koekkoek knows when it comes to the matchup, defending the Oilers' top league scorers and speedsters like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl won't be easy, but he's up to the task if it's assigned to him.

"I think their speed through the neutral zone is a huge thing. Try not to get caught napping where they’re building up a lot of speed and you aren’t," Koekkoek said. "That’ll be a big focus for us and make sure we try to match their speed as well as we can. McDavid’s one of the fastest in the League, if not the fastest. Tough task, but if we can be aware of when he’s winding it up, try to get in his way a little bit, that’ll help a lot."

After this season, Slater becomes a restricted free agent. He'll need a new contract, but would love to stay in Chicago.

"Not sure if my agent and Stan (Bowman) have had conversations yet," Koekkoek said. "I’d love to re-sign here. I love the city, love my teammates and organization. I think if I can have a good playoff, who knows. Winning always helps, so that’s what I’m focused on. Everything else will take care of itself."