Coming off a rare loss (no really, losses are rare this season) in Phoenix on Saturday night, a loss that ended a six game winning streak, the Oilers returned to action tonight in Montreal looking to start a new winning streak. To help the Oilers out they had Ales Hemsky back in the lineup for the first time since the second game of the season. To make room for Hemsky, Magnus Paajarvi was the man chosen to watch the game from the rafters. Also back in the Oilers lineup, admittedly to much less fanfare, was Cam Barker who had missed the last three games.
After an ugly game against the Coyotes the Oilers didn't play a lot better tonight, result notwithstanding. They were outshot by a wide margin, were outchanced, spent a lot of time short handed, and still came away with the win. With the reunited Ryan Smyth / Shawn Horcoff / Hemsky line leading the way, and clearing up any misconceptions about who the first line on this team is, the Oilers were able to defy the odds in another game that they probably deserved to lose. This season just keeps on surprising.
The name of the game in the first period was penalties/special teams. First there was a Hal Gill interference call on Ben Eager. The Oilers got some pucks through to Carey Price but couldn't beat the Habs netminder for the games first goal. With 15 seconds left in Gill's penalty, Sam Gagner would get called for tripping ending the Oilers first man advantage opportunity early. The Oilers would kill of the Gagner penalty and would go back on the penalty kill almost immediately when Barker was whistled for tripping after Mike Cammalleri made him look like a pylon. The best the Canadiens would be able to do on these early powerplays was a Cammalleri shot off the post with no official shots were recorded on either powerplay.
The string of penalties would continue when Tomas Plekanec was called for tripping shortly after five-on-five play resumed. The Oilers powerplay looked effective but registered just one shot, firing a couple of one-timers wide of the mark. The special teams display was book ended by by around five minutes of even strength play on either end in what was a mostly blah first period. At the end of the first the Oilers held a 6-4 advantage in shots and a 15-11 lead in attempted shots but I don't know that they were the better team. From here on they certainly weren't the better team.
Within the first minute of the second period Hemsky reminded us all just how talented he is when he made a move to drag the puck past Raphael Diaz, who could have been called for tripping on the play. The play wouldn't even result in a shot on goal but it was nice to see Hemsky back in action. The fourth line would also generate a little offense for the Oilers early in the period when Lennart Petrell separated the Canadiens defender from the puck, Eager used his speed to get to the loose puck behind the net and then found Anton Lander in the slot for a good scoring chance.
And then the penalty parade would start again when Petrell was sent to the box for hooking. But it would be the Oilers who would score during the penalty when Ryan Jones picked off a lazy pass from Plekanec giving him a breakaway from the blueline in. The Canadiens would get another powerplay opportunity when Taylor Hall was called for tripping. Again though, the Oilers were the team with the great scoring chance; this time a Smyth breakaway but Price kept the Oilers from their second shorthanded goal of the period.
The Oilers would take their fifth penalty of the game with just over five minutes left in the period when they got called for too many men. On the play all Eager has to do is dump the puck deep but instead tried to stickhandle across the blueline getting poke checked (or just loses the puck possibly), Horcoff grabs the loose puck and the whistle blows as the Oilers were in the middle of a line chance. Before that penalty would expire the OIlers would take yet another penalty giving the Canadiens a 12 second two-man advantage. The goal light would go on and the horn would sound but the puck sat on the side of the net allowing the Oilers to kill the short two-man advantage and eventually their sixth penalty of the evening preserving that one goal lead.
The third period started the way most third periods tend to when the Oilers have a one goal lead, with lots of chances for the other team. The exception being when the Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky line was sent over the boards, they actually generated a couple of good scoring chances including a Smyth shot that went off the crossbar and more importantly kept the Canadiens away from the Oilers end. The Oilers would calm down somewhat near the midpoint of the period after a great shift from the fourth line but the Canadiens were still coming on strong.
Tom Gilbert would finally give the Oilers the insurance they needed when his shot deflected off a Canadiens defender with 3:32 left to play, putting the Oilers up by a pair. Just when the lead seemed safe though the Habs came right back with a goal off a soft backhander from Max Pacioretty 22 seconds later. That was a goal that Nikolai Khabibulin simply cant let in. The silver lining is that last year he'd have let that goal in 22 seconds after the OIlers cut the lead to a single goal so the situation is improving. In a period where the Oilers were outshot and outplayed I think a few clutched their beer a little tighter at this point. But the Canadiens couldn't get the equalizer, despite a shift against the OIlers fourth line in the game's final two minutes, and Smyth's empty netter with 43 seconds left would seal the deal for the OIlers on this night.
News and Notes:
- In the years since the lockout the Oilers haven't fared well against many teams but they have done quite well against Montreal posting a 6-0-3 record. The last time the Oilers lost to the Canadiens in regulation was almost eight years ago.
- In the second period Khabibulin turned away a Petteri Nokelainen shot, the 21,000th shot he'd faced in his career.
- Craziest thing about Khabibulin's 7-0-2 start is that, if not for two really soft goals, he could have four shutouts already this season. Khabibulin last had four shutouts in 2002/03 with the Lighting.
- The Hall / Ryan Nugent-Hopkins / Jordan Eberle line struggled mightily tonight getting outchanced by a combined 18-4 at even strength and getting heavily outshot as well. Interestingly Nugent-Hopkins had his best night in the faceoff circle going 6 for 10. Each draw coming against Plekanec who has a 50.5% success rate this season.
- At the other end of the spectrum the Smyth / Horcoff / Hemsky trio outchanced the Habs at evens and Smyth and Horcoff both spent over four minutes killing the OIlers many penalties. To say that they had a good night would be putting it mildly.
- Ladislav Smid blocked another three shots tonight, GIlbert and Jeff Petry each blocked two as the Oilers defense continue to help out their goalies. As a team the Oilers rank near the top of the league in shot blocks.