The Edmonton Oilers have played just six Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada games so far this season. This game was unusual in that it wasn't technically a hockey night in Canada. Well if it was if you were a Canadian watching it on your television.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are still without ex-Oiler Ethan Moreau. Moreau is on the injured reserve due to bruised ribs. The most recent news on Moreau is from last week, and say that Moreau feels the injury is "still as painful as the day or so after the injury." It's not as though Oilers' fans were concerned that Moreau could or would score a hat-trick against his old team, but it might have crossed a few minds.
Devan Dubnyk did not get the start in net, rather coach Tom Renney made the decision to go with Khabibulin. That was likely the decision that caused a few concerned Oilers' fans to utter a few choice words and phrases.
The Oilers' penalty kill was first up to bat on the evening, but also started out on a good note. The Oilers successfully killed the first Jackets' man advantage. What will come as little surprise is that the Jackets were able to do the same soon after.
It didn't take long for Linus Omark to make another amazing pass for magnificent Magnus Paajarvi and get the Oilers on the board. Paajarvi has been the reason the Oilers have not been shutout on a number of games lately. As this goal was so early, there was hope for many other goals from your Edmonton Oilers. Dustin Penner didn't keep Oilers' fans waiting long. Did you know that Penner had a rocket shot? He does, and sometimes he wants to use it. Tonight, was one of those nights. The CBC announcers were too easy on Nikolai Khabibulin, and that's coming from me, your local softy. The commentators did however get it right when they said that the Penner goal came from Horcoff wining the face-off. By winning puck pocession, then maintaining it, goal scoring was somehow simpler it seems.
Apparently Khabibulin making not one, but two saves is absolutely astounding work according to some at CBC. It's good to know what standards are it seems. It was difficult not to wonder if there was some sarcasm or mockery in these comments.
After Khabibulin's "amazing" second save, Ladislav Smid was called for a high stick. The Oilers managed not only to kill off the penalty, but also draw a penalty when Jakub Voracek was called for tripping as the Smid penalty was nearly over. The Oilers' power play went without a goal through not only the Voracek penalty but also on the Derek Dorsett slashing penalty that was called 2 seconds before the first expired. Five on five play that followed brought with it a Blue Jackets goal. The goal was finally assigned to RJ Umberger after going for review.
The second period started off on an interesting note. Khabibulin was at the edge of his crease when Rick Nash inadvertently came crashing into Khabibulin. While pleading Nash's case, Derick Brassard was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Oilers still couldn't score on the power play, not even a 5 on 3, and took just 3 shots on net. Bruce McCurdy pointed out that the Oilers have not scored on a 5 on 3 all season. The whistle didn't seem to go again until Voracek was called for hooking. The Oilers managed just one single shot on their fourth power play of the night.
Kristian Huselius was the next to score, firing the puck on Khabi, scoring five hole. Thankfully the comments were not how there was no way that Khabi could have stopped that goal. It was unfortunate that the goal was allowed, and it was a combination of all aspects of the Oilers' defence that allowed the goal, but the game was now tied at 2.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Sam Gagner, Omark and Paajarvi line were the next to score. Another beautiful pass from Omark found it's way to Paajarvi in front of the net. Magnificent Magnus was able to get the Oilers back in the lead. Who says that Paajarvi scores goals that don't matter? I think those people might stop saying that now. Well, I hope so at least.
Andrew Cogliano took the next penalty, for interference. The only thing that made this less depressing was that the Blue Jackets were 0 for 2, and only had one shot on the previous power plays. The Oilers did successfully kill off the penalty, but Umberger didn't want to be outscored by Paajarvi on the night. As an Oilers' fan it pains me to say this, but it was a great goal. Omark was strong defensively and did attempt to stop the scoring opportunity, but Umberger scored from an awkward, but good looking goal. Huselius couldn't let Paajarvi or Umberger score more than him, so the Jackets took the lead 4 3 and with just four minutes to play. Thankfully, the Oilers didn't stop looking for the tying goal, but they didn't find it.
I'm not saying that Khabibulin was entirely to blame, but I fail to see how Dubnyk would have made the Oilers lose, or lose by more goals. The game would have been different if Dubnyk were in net, so it's not exactly fair to say that the score would have been 3-2 Oilers, but it likely would have been. Khabibulin did have some good saves, but that is his job. The Oilers have Khabibulin for another two years, but hopefully the two netminders will split the games until the end of the season. Khabibulin is now riding a 13 game losing streak. Khabi is ranked first in the league amongst goaltenders for one thing, but it's not a good one. Khabibulin in 1st in the league for losses for a goalie.
Some around here blamed Jandermeer for Jim Vandermeer's injuries throughout most of January. I was unconvinced. Vandermeer may not be a league leading defenseman, but he is out there playing a physical game. Vandermeer makes more of a difference in terms of standing up for his teammates and throwing hits than say, Jean-Francois Jacques.
Paajarvi, Omark and Gagner were once again fantastic. Yes, they stand out more because they scored two of the Oilers goals, but they are also showing the most chemistry together. Omark is proving why he deserves to remain with the Oilers. His puck handling, defensive plays and ability to maintain puck control outshine a few other Oilers forwards. Hopefully, Paajarvi is starting to silence the claims by some that he has no finish. Gagner has been making smart passes and has found chemistry with his linemates.
The face-off wins for the evening did not go as well as they seemed, overall that is. The Oilers finished the evening with 39% wins. Shawn Horcoff went 9-16 or 56%. Jordan Eberle (1 for 1) and Dustin Penner (2 for 2) had the best percentages for the game, but their sample size was small. Sam Gagner had the worst night in the dot, 1 for 9 or 11%. It bothers me when people concentrate on Cogliano's struggles with face-offs, but ignore Gagner's games like this. No matter though, this is still the same story game in, and game out.
The Oilers special teams are still altering the effect of the games. Unable to score on the power play, especially a 5 on 3, is keeping the Oilers from winning games. The penalty kill was more successful tonight, killing all four successfully. This may be due in part to the fact that the Jackets are currently ranked 28th for power play, just 1.3% higher than the Oilers.
As said before, the Oilers are not taking enough shots from the point. By looking for the perfect pass, the perfect set-up too many opportunities are missed, there are fewer rebounds for secondary shots. The Oilers were out shot by the Jackets, 26 to 34 on the night. With 5 power play opportunities, one being a 5 on 3, that just isn't enough.
The main positive for this game is that it definitely was not a snoozer. The play was fast and continuous, and there were Oilers' goals. This was a great alternative to UFC fight night, or a good primer for Oilers' fans evenings.
Next up, the Oilers are in Nashville Monday night. Give me strength, the Predators are never a favourite game. The Oilers may be the inferior team this year, but they never seem to be able to win in Nashville.