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Oilers Dominate Early, Top Predators 6-2

There was a lot of this going on tonight as the Oilers found their scoring touch.
There was a lot of this going on tonight as the Oilers found their scoring touch.

A night after getting dominated from start to finish by the Dallas Stars the Oilers were back on the ice tonight taking on the Nashville Predators in the second game of their four game road trip. Like Dallas, Nashville probably ranks fairly low on most Oilers fans list of their favourite NHL cities. In the post lockout NHL the Oilers have struggled to win games in Nashville and usually get pushed around in the process. Minnesota is probably the only city that ranks lower on those lists than the first two stops on the road trip and it's of course stop number three.

The Oilers made a couple of lineup changes tonight putting Magnus Paajarvi and Ben Eager back in the lineup in place of Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk. Alex Plante was recalled from the Barons to replace the demoted Taylor Chorney. And Devan Dubnyk took over the goaltending duties, giving Nikolai Khabibulin a night off. None of those are major changes though. Certainly not the kind of changes that should result in a performance as different from the game before as night and day.

Last night the Oilers were outplayed for a full sixty minutes by a Stars team that looked like they belonged in a different league. Nashville isn't as physical as Dallas but they play a similar aggressive style and yet tonight it was the Oilers who looked like they belonged in a different league taking complete control of the game early on en route to a 3-0 lead after the first period that would allow the Oilers to coast to a comfortable 6-2 win. 

Scoring Chances - Fenwick/Corsi Head-to-Head Ice Time - Shift Charts
Box Score - Event Summary - Faceoff Report - Shot Report
On The Forecheck game recap - Oilers 6, Predators 2: Rinne pulled after 1st period

The first period was all Oilers. And I mean all Oilers. With the ice already looking slanted towards the Predators end of the rink and the shots counting 6-1 in favour of the visitors, the Oilers got the first powerplay of the game when Craig Smith was called for hooking on Eric Belanger. It would take the Oilers less than 30 seconds to score on that powerplay when Shawn Horcoff knocked home a Ryan Smyth special from deep in Pekka Rinne's crease. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made a very un Oiler-like play on the powerplay goal by just putting the puck on the net when there were no other readily available options. It was nice to see the Oilers take what they were given on the powerplay rather than pass the puck around looking for the perfect shot.

A little over two minutes later the Oilers would extend their lead when Ales Hemsky was left open in the middle of the ice during a Predators line change. Smyth found Hemsky at the blueline for a short breakaway that Hemsky made no mistake on, beating Rinne high to the glove side. But the Oilers didn't take their foot off the gas and added yet another goal before the end of the period when Taylor Hall took a hit  as he entered the Nashville zone but was still able to get the puck to an open Jordan Eberle who worked his way around the Predators defense for the Oilers third goal in a stretch of 6:20. After the first period the Oilers held a 13-3 advantage in shots and had outchanced the Predators 9-0. Like I said it was all Oilers.

The second period told a different story however. After replacing Rinne with Anders Lindback to start the period the Predators started to come to life. That the Oilers started taking penalties didn't help either. First Tom Gilbert went to the box, followed by Smyth, and then Jeff Petry as the Oilers took three minors in a row. If there was a time where this game could have gotten away from the Oilers it was here but despite getting six shots on the powerplays the Predators didn't generate any scoring chances with the man advantage.

Perhaps looking to find a way to spark his game Sam Gagner dropped the gloves with Matt Halischuk later in the second period. Fighting isn't what Gagner is paid to do and I'm never a big fan of players like him getting in fights because it's not something they're particularly good at and they risk a needless injury by fighting. But Gagner held his own in this scrap and I'd probably say he won the fight. According to Gagner has fought exactly once in each of his NHL seasons; hopefully that means we won't see another fight from him anytime soon.

At the five minute mark of the third period Eberle would score his second of the night, a very nice goal where he skated with the puck across the slot and into the right corner before making his way back to the slot and beating Lindback to the blocker side. Eberle had a great night for the Oilers but it was his patience with the puck on this play that really impressed me. Plenty of players would have forced a shot or a pass earlier but Eberle realized that he had space and took what the Predators were willing to give him. Sometimes it's hard to remember that this is only his second season in the league.

The Predators would finally get on the board with a powerplay goal past the midway point of the period. Jordin Tootoo would get his stick on a Shea Weber point shot deflecting it past Devan Dubnyk. Any thoughts of a comeback were quickly put aside when Petry's point shot beat a screened Lindback within the next minute of play. Horcoff would score the Oilers final goal, and his second of the night, on a slap shot from the slot. Gagner made the pass to Horcoff but unless Gagner saw Horcoff's reflection in the glass, and I doubt he did, he was just throwing it to the middle of the ice and it happened to find the only Oiler in the area. Jonathon Blum would round out the scoring on this night with a goal with 20 seconds left to play.

That late goal probably wasn't how Dubnyk wanted to end his night, but with the game essentially over and the fans heading for the exits I doubt anyone will really care.

News and Notes:

  • Eberle was a lot of fun to watch tonight. He scored two goals, including the game winner, added an assist, and took four shots. As usual he and Nugent-Hopkins, with Smyth on left wing tonight, were given a lot of offensive zone starts but it was nice to see the type of game they've been able to play at home translate to the road for a change.
  • Hemsky, who was playing in his 500th game, finally looked like the Hemsky from before his shoulder injury in the second game of the season. He scored a goal and had a chance for another on a breakaway in the second period. Hemsky also lead the team in shots with five and worked well with Taylor Hall.
  • The Oilers blue line needs help. Gilbert and Ladislav Smid can hold their own but there are a lot of warts on the other two pairings and Plante is so immobile he may actually be growing moss. Given the luxury of a three goal lead going into the third period the Oielrs were able to keeping playing all three pairs but in a tight game we might find out if Gilbert and Smid can play 15 minutes in the third period.
  • In his return to the lineup Paajarvi played 8:32 but looked much more effective than he has in recent games. I'd still argue he's being wasted on the fourth line but his drive tonight was encouraging, hopefully the coaching staff will reward him with more playing time and/or different line mates.
  • Before the game Smyth and Nugent-Hopkins were tied for the team lead in points with 20. Nugent-Hopkins took the lead with a point on the first goal only to have Smyth record an assist on the second goal to again draw even. The pattern then repeated itself on the next two goals of the game. The back and forth between a player born in 1993 and another drafted in 1994 made me smile.