With a week of the new NHL season in the books the Oilers played just their second game of the season tonight against the Wild in Minnesota. Unless you've been living under a rock you probably know that the Oilers haven't won a game in Minnesota in a while. January 16, 2007 to be exact. Since that last win a lot of things have happened. The Oilers traded Ryan Smyth. The Oilers traded for Ryan Smyth. Three different men have coached the Oilers. Two have been the General Manager. Two federal elections have been held. The very first iPhone was released.
Like I said, it's been a while. And despite playing a decent game, which by Oiler standards for games in Minnesota should be considered a victory in itself, the Oilers couldn't bring the streak to an end tonight, and instead fell to the Wild by a 2-1 score in a game decided in a shootout. So for now the streak continues; the next chance to end it comes November 25th.
The Oilers got off to a great start tonight, something that didn't happen on opening night against the Penguins and had also been lacking throughout the preseason.
Early on, the Oilers, led by Ales Hemsky, dominated the Wild. Hemsky was flying around the ice leaving the Wild to just stand in place watching. In the game's first minutes Hemsky circled behind the net, hit Taylor Hall with a pass down low, and then Hall found Tom Gilbert in the slot for a great scoring chance. Yes it would have been better had it gone in but it was amazing nonetheless and it reaffirmed just how good Hemsky is. Sadly, it wasn't something that would last for a full game as Hemsky left before the end of the first with a sore shoulder and didn't return.
Despite the early dominance the Oilers didn't get on the board until the second half of the first period when Smyth redirected a shot past Niklas Backstrom for his first goal since returning to the Oilers. Smyth was standing on the edge of the crease making it tough for the Wild netminder to the see the puck. It was a vintage Smyth goal, just like so many he scored before.
The second period didn't go as well for the Oilers as the first did. With Hemsky gone the line shuffling began with Anton Lander and Ryan Jones spending time on the top line alongside Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And as is usally the case when the lines start to shuffle, the play suffers. After carrying the play for most of the first period the Oilers were outshot 11-7 and outchanced 7-4 in the second, numbers that reflect where a great deal of the period was played.
Luckily for the Oilers, Nikolai Khabibulin stood tall and kept them in the game. Khabibulin would turn away 34 of 35 shots on the night, including 14 in the third period alone. The lone puck that did get by him could hardly be considered his fault either. After a scramble at the Oilers blueline the Wild came in on what could possibly be the slowest 3-on-1 in NHL history. With no pressure from a backchecker Matt Cullen was able to move from the middle of the ice to Khabibulin's left before beating the goalie high to the glove side.
In the third period things went from bad to worse for the Oilers as the Wild took complete control of the game. The shots and chances were both tilted heavily in the home team's favour, and if not for strong goaltending the Oilers would have found themselves heading to the dressing room without even a Bettman point at the end of the game. Khabibulin didn't get the Oilers a lot of points last season but you can chalk this one up to him.
After sixty minutes an additional five would solve nothing, and for the second time in as many games, the Oilers were off to a shootout. The first shooter for both teams, Jordan Eberle for the Oilers and Cullen for the Wild, would score followed by unsuccessful attempts by the next four shooters. With the shootout into extra shooters, Devin Setoguchi would put the Wild on top; Shawn Horcoff was unable to match for the Oil, and just like that the Oilers had lost yet another game in Minnesota.
News and Notes:
- After the game the Oilers didn't elaborate further on the Hemsky injury, saying only that it's "sore and diagnosis will be taken care of in the morning".
- Shawn Horcoff took his 10,000th career faceoff to start the second period. Derek was oh so close.
- Speaking of Horcoff, there was a lot of talk on Twitter that Horcoff was a bad choice to take the Oilers fourth attempt in the shootout. That he went into the game a career 9-for-17 and was the only Oiler with a career success rate better than 50% would seem to indicate that he was a very good choice.
- Gilbert played 26:35 minutes tonight, which is actually two seconds more than he played on opening night. I think the only person that wants Ryan Whitney back in the lineup more than Oiler fans is Gilbert.
- Darcy Hordichuk tripled his ice time from opening night playing almost three minutes tonight. Anton Lander and Lennart Petrell both had solid games on the fourth line. I would like to see what they could do playing alongside an actual NHL player for a full game.