Blackhawks vs. Oilers: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks – TV schedule, start times, channels

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

Oilers – Blackhawks preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Will Corey Crawford be ready?

Crawford looked sharp during Wednesday’s exhibition win over the Blues. He stopped all 11 shots he faced in 30 minutes of action after only three practices following his recovery from COVID-19. If he can’t go in Game 1, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia are Jeremy Colliton’s options.

Hampered by injuries over the last few seasons, Crawford had a solid 2019-20 with a .926 even strength save percentage during the regular season — good enough for sixth in the NHL among goalies with 30 appearances.  It’s an important week for him to get up to speed and be ready for Saturday. There’s little room for error in the best-of-five series.

What kind of help will Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl receive?

The productive duo have been incredibly important to the Oilers’ standing in the Western Conference. Their 77 combined goals this season was 35% of the team’s total output. It doesn’t begin with this season, of course. McDavid and Draisaitl have scored an NHL-best 197 goals since 2016-17 — 21.3% of the team’s entire goal total.

We know what they’re capable of doing. Beyond Connor and Leon is where the issue could halt the Oilers’ progress. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was next on the team with 22 goals, followed by James Neal‘s 19. But you need some context around Neal’s total. Remember when he scored eight times in their first six games? He’s goalless now since his New Year’s Eve hat trick, a span of 13 games before the pause.

An X-factor up front for Edmonton might Andreas Athanasiou, who was acquired at the February trade deadline. He was a 30-goal scorer last season, but struggled earlier this year in Detroit. The speedy winger played only nine games with the Oilers after the deal, but an extended summer camp could serve the pending restricted free agent well.

Who’s out? Who might return?

Blackhawks: Brent Seabrook will not play this summer after shoulder and hip surgeries. Connor Murphy dealt with a groin injury but returned for Tuesday’s skate. Calvin de Haan missed time during Phase 3 due to a family emergency but did travel with the team to Edmonton.

Oilers: Mike Green was one of the handful of NHL players to opt out of the Return to Play. Riley Sheahan didn’t finish the team’s scrimmage over the weekend and sat out Tuesday’s game against the Flames. He’s expected to be ready for Game 1. After dealing with a COVID-19 diagnosis, Caleb Jones returned but missed the exhibition game after being “nicked up,” according to head coach Dave Tippett.

Getty Images

Slowing Edmonton’s power play

A 29.5% success rate with the extra man from the Oilers’ power play was the best the NHL has seen since the 1978-79 Islanders went over 30%. It wasn’t so much volume that led to all those man advantage goals as it was the quality of their chances.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers were 21st in Corsi attempts for (530) and 22nd in total power play shots for (291). Other than scoring, what the unit did successfully was creating scoring chances per 60 minutes (58.77, first overall) and getting high-danger chances (23.8 per 60 minutes, fifth overall).

Chicago’s penalty was solid, ranking ninth in the NHL at 82.1%. They’ll be put to the test when down a man.

Mike Smith vs. Mikko Koskinen

The Oilers’ goalies split their exhibition game against Calgary. Both played well with Smith allowing the lone goal after 20 shots faced. So who gets the Game 1 start? They shared the workload during the regular season and there was no hot hand to turn to with Smith being the only one to get three straight starts in the final month.

Koskinen has the edge of even strength save percentage .917 to .902 and had the fourth-best shorthanded save percentage at .901 (Smith was tied for first with .918). Tippett is familiar with Smith’s experience having coached him in two previous stops with the Stars and Coyotes.

Smith has the edge in rebound control and puck handling abilities. If you want to win the possession battle, having a goaltender who can perform well in those two category is a good start.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

A look at the Western Conference matchups
Previewing the Eastern Conference

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.