Devan Dubnyk can't win for losing. He came oh so close to his first career win on Thursday night, taking the Oilers to the shootout against Montreal and then stopping the first four shooters he faced, but no Oiler could score to put it away. Ryan Potulny and Shawn Horcoff stuffed the puck into the pads of Jaroslav Halak. Shooting third, Gilbert Brule had the game on his stick but wired a bullet shot off the iron, right where post meets crossbar. After Dubnyk made yet a fourth stop, Robert Nilsson deked Halak but couldn't lift the puck over him. Finally in the fifth round Andrei Kostitsyn managed to beat Dubnyk, and when Sam Gagner flubbed his deke attempt another game was lost. That's 21-39-7 for the woeful Oilers overall, and 0-7-2 for the luckless Dubnyk.
Not that this one was a showcase of great goaltending up until that point. Both Dubnyk and Halak were beaten twice in the game's opening 10 minutes, and a second flurry of goals from late in the second to the midway point of the third bumped the score to 4-4. Nilsson, Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Horcoff did the damage for the Oilers, as each line connected once on the night.
More bad news for a team that can't stop living the nightmare came in the form of an injury that knocked Ryan Whitney out of this one late in the second. Whitney blocked a shot and left with a leg (hopefully not a foot) injury. Of the three Oilers acquired at the deadline last week, two - Ryan Jones and now Whitney - are already on the shelf.
Patrick O'Sullivan was also out of action tonight with a hand injury after a slash the other night, so up came Chris Minard to become the first Oiler to wear #39 since Dougie Weight left town. Coincidentally, Minard became the 39th different Oiler of this injury-and-illness-plagued season, the largest number of players to wear Oiler silks in a single season since 1998-99.
More numbers after the jump ...
A 65-minute game sans a minute-munching defender for a significnat portion really raised the bar for the remaining defence corps. Tom Gilbert delivered one of his best games of the season, logging 27:49, and posting 0-2-2, +1 with 4 blocked shots. Aaron Johnson was close behind at 26:31 and also recorded a creditable +1 with a solid, low-event night. Johnson's most-of-the-time partner, Theo Peckham, was a force out there, landing 7 hits in his 21:23 including a couple that registered on the Richter Scale. Better still, Oilers outshot Montreal 13-4 on Theo's watch. The only downside was a pair of marginal penalties of the type that veterans get away with but rookies don't. It's hard to reconcile this Peckham with the one who played four games in October, posting a miserable -5 in just 47 minutes. This time around Theo has played with far more authority, breaking even on the +/- scale over 6 games and 112 hard minutes.
Then there was the pairing of Jason Strudwick (-2) and Taylor Chorney (-3 in just 15:03). Every once in a while Chorney does something that looks like a real defenceman, but his results are consistently terrible. Strudwick meanwhile was negligent if not missing in action on two of the Montreal tallies.
Up front Pat Quinn tried to hard-match the Penner-Cogliano-Brule trio against Montreal's B.Pouliot-Gomez-Gionta line, and otherwise pretty much rolled the lines. That group made things happen in the good end of the ice but had some issues in the defensive zone, outshooting Montreal 8-5 but getting outscored 1-2. Penner started to really skate and take control in the third period and overtime, his best stretch of hockey since the Olympic break. He was unlucky to hit the post twice in a row on a breakaway attempt. Brule meanwhile led the forward corps in shots (3), hits (4), and faceoff percentage (4/5 = 80%), but failed to convert his best opportunity when sent in alone by Penner.
Meanwhile, Comrie-Horcoff-Pisani formed a veteran trio which combined for the 4-4 goal and finished the night +1 across the board. The makeshift Minard-Gagner-Pouliot trio was less successful, each finishing the night at -2 although they did click for the game's lone powerplay tally. Finally, the new fourth line of Nilsson-Potulny-Stortini had a real solid night, outshooting the Habs 6-0 during their 10½ minutes and putting a goal on the board.
All in all it was an entertaining and wide-open if sloppy affair. The Oilers were fully deserving of their one point and could easily have taken the second. The best news of all was that Toronto won their game in overtime and actually extended the gap over the Oilers to 7 points. The league's bottom two teams meet up on Saturday in a game which could end the suspense in the "race" for last overall. Even if the Oilers pull off the win they'll still be at least 5 points in arrears and odds-on favourite to pick no worse than second. Let's just hope that Hall or Seguin will be worth the misery that Oil fans have endured in 2009-10.