DENVER CO - FEBRUARY 23: Taylor Hall scores his 21st goal of the season from an increasingly familiar place - the side of the net. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Brian Elliott took to the ice as a member of the Ottawa Senators 11 days ago winless in 13 decisions. On that day Elliott would break his winless streak at the expense of the Edmonton Oilers. Tonight the Oilers got a second chance to beat the goalie that almost every team in the NHL has beat of late and this time they made no mistake coming away with a 5-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche.
Things started off a little slow for the Oilers who lost and ugly game in Minnesota the night before. Were they tired from last nights game and the late night flight? Just around the point where the fear of last night repeating itself was starting to take hold the Oilers got their act together and started to play some hockey. And as is usually the case with this team, when they play hard good things happen. I just wish it didn't take them 10 minutes to get going most nights.
The game started off the way most Oiler games do, with the Oilers getting out shot. But in the spirit of "if you’re going to do something make sure you do it right" the Oilers like to get drastically out shot, in this case by an 11-1 margin by the midway mark of the first. That 10 shot gap would hold for the rest of the period when the shot clock would read 13-3.
Aside from getting pucks to the net the Avs also spent a good portion of the first period bleeding. First it was Ryan O’Byrne who got cut on the chin by Taylor Hall’s skate. No two ways about it O’Byrne was very lucky that he wasn’t seriously hurt on the play, with the skate/face combination that could have been a whole lot worse. With O’Byrne lost for the night Cody McLeod would also get his face opened up, in this case by a teammates stick.
The only penalty of the first period came when Kevin Porter got whistled for a high-stick on Hall at 13:48. The resulting power play would lead to the first goal of the game off the stick of Dustin Penner. From the side of the net Shawn Horcoff moved the puck through the crease to an open Penner. Erik Johnson got caught between Horcoff and Penner rendering himself basically useless, a play reminiscent of many Oiler penalty kills this season.
The second period started off better for the Oilers and the team actually generated a couple of chances. Sam Gagner would put the Oilers up by a pair seven minutes into the period. On the goal the Oilers got a good line matchup with the Gagner line out against the fourth line of the Avs. Philippe Dupuis had the puck hit his stick in the slot only to bounce to Gagner who would bury it past Brian Elliott.
Presumably not satisfied with a two goal lead the Oilers decided to put that amazing 76% penalty kill on display when Theo Peckham got called for hooking less than a minute after the Gagner goal. The Oilers would kill off the Peckham penalty and buoyed by that successful kill would take another penalty almost immediately. Despite being short handed for four minutes in a span of less than five minutes the Oilers would hold onto that two goal lead.
At 14:08 Taylor Hall would draw yet another penalty – his fourth in the last two games. Like the Oilers did on their power play in the first period they attacked the slot on this power play as well. And the result was again a goal. This time Jordan Eberle took the shot from Elliott’s left and Hall was there to bang home the rebound.
Any thoughts that a three goal lead was safe vanished quickly when the Avs scored 15 seconds later. Luckily for the Oilers the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle when the puck was still loose, thereby negating the goal but the message that the Avs were not about to roll over was clearly sent. Generally the Oilers kept their foot on the gas so it’s possible they actually got the message.
The Avalanche would keep coming at the Oilers and on a Jim Vandeermer penalty would cut the Oilers lead to 3-1 before the end of the period. Off the rush Matt Duchene would make Jason Strudwick look like a pylon – as if he needs any help – passing the puck through his legs to a streaking Milan Hedjuk who would catch Devan Dubnyk cheating off the post, beating the Oiler goalie to the short side. That miscue by Dubnyk would be his only real mistake of the night.
The Avalanche would get a chance to get right back into the game early in the third period when Eberle headed to the box for hooking less than two minutes in. But the Oilers power play kills three out of four penalties; since this was the fourth penalty of the night and the Avalanche already had a power play goal you knew that this penalty would get killed. Okay knew might be strong, but the penalty was killed nonetheless.
That power play was really the Avs last gasp on this night. Seconds after the Eberle penalty expired Hall would pull away from Matt Hunwick for a breakaway. The breakaway would be unsuccessful but the way Hall separated from Hunwick was remarkable. Hunwick had just come onto the ice at the end of the penalty so it’s not as if he was tired either. Hall had another great scoring chance later in the period when Hemsky feed the rookie for a one timer from the slot. It’s just game 61 of his career but he is looking more and more like a star every night.
Oiler goals from Eberle and Kurtis Foster 1:47 apart would seal the victory for the Oilers. Both goals went over Elliott’s left shoulder. The Eberle goal was a great shot from the wing; Fosters simply has to be stopped by NHL goaltenders. Wrist shots from the blue line, even when partially screened, have to be stopped.
Even though it was the Oilers second road game in two nights they kept coming at the Avalanche right to the final buzzer. Penner had a good rush; Gagner had a chance for his second goal of the night on two on one with Liam Reddox. Normally I’d expect a team to slow down late in the back half of back-to-back games but not on this night. Maybe it was youthful energy. Maybe it was that they barely broke a sweat last night.
- With their goals Penner and Hall stay tied for the team lead with 21. Hall's 41 points leaves him just one point back of Hemsky for the team lead in points. Since the teams chances at the playoffs are long gone these might be the best races the fans get to watch over the last 21 games.
- Speaking of Hall he is turning into a penalty drawing machine. He has drawn two penalties in each of the Oilers last two games. Obviously the goals are going to get the headlines but this isn't a skill that should be overlooked.
- Over the last three games the Oilers have scored five power play goals. Penner's goal tonight from two feet outside the crease is the furthest from the net of the five. Each goal has been the result of attacking the slot, not blasting away from the point. Might be something to that idea.
- Don't look now but Dubnyk's save percentage is up to .914. He's clearly the better option in net right now. If the Oilers are serious about trying to win how can he not get the lions share of the starts the rest of the way?
- And who was that woman at 2:12 of the highlight video?