Most of the time I have nothing bad to say about the L.A.Kings. They're a good young team that has been down for a long time, sporting some ex-Oilers (Ryan Smyth, Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll) who I like just fine. But all that goes away when they drop the puck: the Kings have hurt the Oilers, and hurt us bad, in recent years. In 2009-10 that includes two of the Oil's harsher defeats of the season, both in Edmonton, as late goals by the light-scoring Greene and lighter-scoring Sean O'Donnell decided each in favour of the visitors. The first "featured" the loss of Ales Hemsky for the season, victim of a dirty Michal Handzus hit; and the second ended the Oilers' five-game winning streak in early December and started them on the seemingly endless 26-game slide that left their playoff chances for dead.
So turnaround is fair play. Tonight it was the Oilers with the chance to send L.A. fans home grumbling into the night, and they mostly succeeded with a 3-2 shootout victory that surely left the playoff-bound Kings counting their Bettman points if not their blessings.
Oilers came close to taking this one in regulation. The game remained scoreless for 33 minutes before the fourth line finally broke the ice with a long shift of tremendous pressure that ended with former King Denis Grebehkov firing a point shot that ex-Oiler Matt Greene (using ex-Oiler Jarret Stoll's stick) deftly deflected into his own net. Dustin Penner's powerplay marker on a wicked wrist shot 8 minutes into the third made it 2-0, and if the Oilers were a normal, half-decent team they would have been home and cooled out. They aren't of course, they are the Oilers, and sure enough the Kings started to ratchet up the pressure, crashing Jeff Deslauriers' crease with increasing frequency. The pestiferous Dustin Brown scored to make it 2-1, then set up Ryan Smyth with 5 minutes left and just like that it was 2-2. The Kings continued to press, until a frustrated Deslauriers decided to take matters into his own hands and tackle the brilliant young defenceman Drew Doughty after the latter took a shot long after the whistle. It didn't solve a whole lot, but Deslauriers' competitive fire was on display for all to see. JDD built a wall in front of his net, especially after a Brown dive drew a Kings' powerplay in overtime, and finished the hockey part of the game with 41 saves and a hard-fought 2-2 tie.
Of course ties aren't permissible in Gary Bettman's NHL, so the teams proceeded to the shootout which turned out to be one of the most entertaining skills contests I've witnessed to date. Oilers, shooting second, were down to their last shot three different times, and converted each time courtesy Shawn Horcoff (3rd round), Dustin Penner (7th) and Gilbert Brule (9th). Four other shooters had a chance to win the game outright after Deslauriers saves but failed to deliver. At last, ex-King Lubomir Visnovsky delivered the game-winner in the tenth round, and the Oilers horrible 11-game road losing streak was finally over.
There were a few heroes wearing copper and blue on Thursday. Shawn Horcoff led all Oiler skaters with 25:42 ice time (including 5:23 on the 6-for-6 penalty kill unit) and played one of his best games of the season, skating miles, strong defensively, and dangerous on the attack. Tom Gilbert was the TOI leader on the blue with 25:28 (7:07 SH) and played the type of solid, low-risk game that has been his trademark in recent weeks. At the other end of the TOI ledger, the fourth line provided serious spark, led by a high-flying Andrew Cogliano and grinder Zack Stortini, reinserted into the line-up after an undeserved two-game vacation. Cogliano and Stortini handily led the Oilers in Corsi at +11 and +9 respectively, impressive in under 8 minutes of work, and with linemate Ethan Moreau played key roles on the opening goal. All three ended the night +1, the only Oilers to do so.
Backing them all up was Jeff Deslauriers, starting his fifth in a row due to a cockamamie NHL rule concerning Devan Dubnyk's eligibility to play in Springfield during the Olympics. Deslauriers had some adventures, including the expected cock-up of a routine shoot-in, and lost track of the puck on the tying goal, which nonetheless could have been whistled dead as it was lodged under his pad for a time. After the lead had disappeared, JDD really answered the bell with some fiery play, which continued right through the shootout in which he saved 7 of 10 attempts, many on the poke check.
With the win the Oil pull to within 5 points of 29th-place Toronto in the standings, so they're not in imminent danger of hurting their draft position. That aside, it felt good to win one for a change. They weren't necessarily the better team on the night, but worked hard enough to deserve their breaks and eventually pull out the two points.
* * *