Though the Penguins and Jets combined for 13 goals, they only combined for 64 shots on goal. The Oilers and Senators combined for 82 shots on goal, including a ridiculous 67 shots at even strength, but thanks to the stellar goaltending of Nikolai Khabibulin and Craig Anderson, the final score was much less eye-popping than the track meet in Pittsburgh.
Nikolai Khabibulin looked like the pre-November Khabibulin, a fortunate break for the Oilers who were apparently auditioning Khabibulin for the Chicago Blackhawks. The old Russian was the hero of the day stopping a cavalcade of scoring chances from the Senators, including a jaw-dropping pad save on Milan Michalek in the first period, a period in which he stopped 16 of 17 shots and was beaten only by a blinding shot off of the stick of Daniel Aldredsson who was perched in the slot and uncovered, a custom for the Oilers at this point.
The much-maligned trio (all for separate reasons) of Magnus Paajarvi - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky were far and away the best Oilers' skaters on the ice, a partly due to matchups, partly due to Paajarvi's new-found Pennerness. Paajarvi has looked like a power forward rather than a speed forward since returning to Edmonton. He's driving to the net rather than allowing the defense to force him outside and looks kind of like that kid who led the Oilers through the last 30 games of 2010-11. Paajarvi finally got his first goal of the season off of a marvelous play by Ales Hemsky, who looked like the Hemsky of the last five seasons on the play, a signal that his offensive game and shoulders might be rounding back into form. Horcoff had a goal and two assists, Hemsky two assists and Paajarvi a goal and an assist (all of those points coming at even strength) and the line was tremendous throughout.
Hemsky was on the receiving end of a crease-clearing shot in the second period and had trouble getting off of the ice. But he returned shortly thereafter to Greg Millen commenting that the best thing about his return is that Steve Tambellini can still trade him. Nice work, Greg.
There's no way Hemsky can come back to the Oilers. Regardless of what he does, Edmonton fans are saying ridiculous things like this and the media is circling like vultures on a carcass. Hemsky is a puck carrrier. He's going to cough the puck up from time-to-time, but he's also going to make spectacular plays like the setup for Paajarvi from time-to-time. I've listed to Penguins' fans screech about Malkin for the same thing, though they aren't trying to run him out of town. Hemsky has six games left in Oilers' silks - I'm going to enjoy those games and when he's gone, I'll miss him terribly.
Taylor Hall got the game-winning goal, but Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner were held off of the scoresheet. It wasn't for a lack of trying though - the three combined for 12 shots on goal, though just 3 of those 12 were during 5-on-5 play. This was partly due to matchups - Tom Renney was unable to get the matchups he wanted, but the veteran line, much like they did at the beginning of the season, delivered for him. Shawn Horcoff drew the Chris Phillips / Sergei Gonchar pairing and faced off against Jason Spezza for the vast majority of his playing time while Sam Gagner drew Erik Karlsson and Filip Kuba and Kyle Turris / Daniel Alfredsson. Renney was able to get Gagner some offensive starts, but they weren't effective and spent most of the early portions of the game chasing in their own end. Derek Van Diest tweeted that Hall was benched in the first period for taking two penalties in the first period, apparently another teaching moment for Tom Renney.
Tom Gilbert and Corey Potter have not been themselves since coming back from their injuries, though Potter seems to be more affected. Gilbert is slowly getting back into his game and looked a quick more nimble against the Senators. Potter is still struggling with his own-zone coverage and played just 12 minutes.
My last note is on Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry. The two may have played the best games of their career against the Sens. They were paired together for most of the night and matched up against the Sens' top two lines for ~14 of their ~20 minutes of ES ice time. Smid didn't hit the scoresheet, but he blocked four shots, he was tough and physical when he needed to be and adept at getting the puck to his partner and out of the zone. Petry picked up an assist, but aside from a tough turnover in the first period, he was marvelous in all three zones. His steal led to Ben Eager's goal, and he was set to move the puck for Smid every time his partner needed an outlet. The two were given the most difficult starts and handled them well, especially when the Oilers gave up 35 shots at evens.
The Oilers head back to Edmonton with 10 points in their last 8 games, but they've been heavily reliant on their goaltending in those wins. Three straight home games means Tom Renney will get his matchups and the Oilers offense should be better. Five of the next six games are at Rexall Place, and will give the fans in Edmonton a final homestand to get a glimpse of Hemsky in Oilers'.