Tonight's game between the Oilers and Avalanche had a couple of interesting story lines. This was the first time that the top two selections in last summers draft - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog - would faceoff against each other. Since both will be staying with their prospective clubs and not going back to junior this will be the first of several meetings this season. This game was also a battle for first place in the Northwest Division. Hands up if you expected either of these teams to be in first place at this point of the season.
Going into the game I honestly wasn't expecting much from the Oilers. After a big win in front of the Rexall Place faithful the night before, the Oilers had a late night flight to Colorado for the second half of back-to-back games. With the travel the players didn't get to the hotel until almost 3:30 in the morning. On top of that the Oilers were also starting a potentially rusty Devan Dubnyk who hadn't started a game since losing 2-1 to the Flames ten days ago. And there was the potential emotional drop off from the night before. At the risk of being negative, the signs didn't point to a good game from the Oilers. But much like last night, when you figure the Oilers wouldn't and probably shouldn't win, they do just that.
Unlike last night most of the first period was played at five-on-five, the lone penalty a holding the stick call assessed against Ladislav Smid near the midway point of the period. On the powerplay that followed the Avs would get a couple of pucks on net and generated one scoring chance but couldn't get a puck past Dubnyk. It seemed to me that the Oilers played a somewhat safe period trying to get their legs going in the early part of the game. As the period went on the Oilers generated more offense including a good chance from Magnus Paajarvi who just couldn't get the puck over Semyon Varlamov's shoulder. After the chance Paajarvi looked up to the rafters likely wondering what its going to take for him to score a goal. Ben Eager had the brain cramp moment of the first period when he appeared to be staring at a girl in the third row, seemingly unaware that the puck was right in front of him leading to a chance for the Avalanche. The early results in the battle of first round picks leaned towards Landeskog who had the better chance to get on the score sheet when the puck took a strange bounce off the boards getting past Dubnyk into the slot, but despite a mostly open net Landeskog couldn't cash in.
Minutes into the second period the Oilers found themselves shorthanded for a second time after Cam Barker was whistled for interference. Again the Avalanche generate a few shots but couldn't score a goal. Less than a minute after the Barker penalty ended the Oilers got a powerplay chance of their own after Landeskog was called for interference on Dubnyk and unlike the Avs the Oilers were able to convert. Barker scored his first goal as an Oiler on a very nice backhand that beat Varlamov over the left shoulder after taking a pass from Sam Gagner. Not to be outdone by his defensive partner Andy Sutton would also score in the second period to give the Oilers a two goal lead. On the play Sutton was where you'd expect him to be, parked right in front of the net ready and available to deflect Lennart Petrell's shot from the point. The Oilers would finish the second period on the powerplay, their third in a row, each one taken by the Avalanche in the Oilers zone. I can't see that making Joe Sacco very happy.
The third period had a little rough stuff after Sutton took a run at Landeskog just outside the Oilers blueline. I'm sure some will say it's a just a good hockey hit, that Sutton's a big guy, and he wasn't trying to catch the rookie in the head. I don't agree. A couple of years ago maybe but I think that hit is the kind of play the NHL is trying to limit now. I don't think he'll be suspended but it was a very borderline hit in my opinion. The Oilers didn't end up shorthanded on the play though becasue Shane O'Brien came to his teammates defense and was given a instigator penalty for his trouble. But much like Sutton didn't let Barker show him up earlier, Barker wouldn't let Sutton beat him here either, taking a stupid penalty of his own shortly after. One the penalty kill Theo Peckham got out of position, started running around, and eventually had the puck bounce off his leg to Ryan O'Reilly who put the puck into the wide open net. Playing their sixth period of hockey in two nights I thought the wheels might come off here for the Oilers but Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth combined to score a damn ugly goal almost immediately after the O'Riely marker to restore the two goal lead. From there the Avs would have a couple more chances to get back into the game, including another powerplay, but Dubnyk, who turned away 40 of 41 shots on the night, just wasn't letting any more pucks past him.
News and Notes:
- Petrell's assist on the Sutton goal was his first point in the NHL. So far this year I've been very impressed with what Petrell has brought to the Oilers and it was nice to see him finally find his way onto the scoresheet. Anytime a team adds a twenty-seven year old with zero NHL experience expectations are low but Petrell hasn't just beat expectations he's blown them away. I don't give Oiler management much credit but in this case they deserve a lot of credit for finding a depth player like Petrell.
- For the second night in a row Sutton was all over the ice looking for the big hit, more than a couple of times taking himself out of position. I don't know where this is coming from but he is a much more effective defenseman when he just plays the game and leaves this other stuff alone.
- Again the Nugent-Hopkins-Taylor Hall-Jordan Eberle line was left on the bench in the games final minutes, playing just two shift in the last ten minutes of the game. The trio struggled for large parts of the game and had the three worst Corsi results among Oiler forwards on the night. I wonder how many games into this trip Renney waits before trying new line combinations for away games.
- The Oilers took 19 shots in the game, the exact same total they took last night, but were outshot by a wider margin in this game. With even average goaltending the Oilers record would be much different than the 6-2-2 it is right now. Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin have been simply spectacular for the Oilers so far this season.