With the World Junior Championships taking over Rexall Place for the week between Christmas and New Year's the Edmonton Oilers departed on a seven game road trip immediately following the Christmas break. Before the break the Oilers were struggling to win games in general, but the results on the road had been especially bad where the team had posted a 5-10-1 record on the season. Still, Tom Renney is an optimistic guy and was confident that his team could come away with eight points on the trip even though five of the seven stops were against teams in a playoff position when the road trip started.
On the trip the Oilers kept most of the games close but could only manage a single win and couldn't even force one of those close games to overtime where they would at least come away with a Bettman point for their efforts. Today the road trip wrapped up with loss number six, a 4-1 defeat to the Dallas Stars. The loss drops the Oilers to 16-22-3 on the season. Since starting the season as one of the hottest teams in the league the Oilers have an 8-20-1 record in their last 29 games. Add in some injuries and more and more this season feels like déjà vu all over again.
After being dominated physically by the Stars the last times these teams played in November the Oilers iced their tough lineup this afternoon with both Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk. Eric Belanger drew the short straw and was assigned the job of centring this line for the first shift of the game. Having Hordichuk and Eager out there to start the game was clearly intended to send the message that the Oilers wouldn't be pushed around, or something to that affect, but seeing Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, and Loui Eriksson lineup opposite of them left me a little frightened that the Stars might take the lead in the first 30 seconds of the game. Thankfully that didn't happen but I'm sure if it had sending that message would have still be seen as worthwhile.
While they dodged a bullet early on icing thugs against hockey players they weren't so lucky later in the period when they suffered yet another injury. This time it was Jordan Eberle who got tangled up with a Stars player in the Oilers end of the rink and appeared to extend his knee further than it is intended to when he fell to the ice. It was a harmless looking play, much like the one that knocked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out on Monday, but Eberle was in obvious pain when he got to the bench and he left for the dressing room shortly after and did not return. For a team already without Nugent-Hopkins up front and Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert on the blue line another injury would not be good news.
Before the end of the first period the Oilers would take the lead when the rebound of a Taylor Hall shot bounced off Alex Goligoski and over the Stars goalie Richard Bachman. Hall has scored nicer goals in his career but in Dallas the Oilers will take whatever they can get.
Despite the Oilers having both Hordichuk and Eager on the bench Steve Ott seemed undeterred and caught Anton Lander with a head shot early in the second period. Josh Green stepped up for Lander on the play getting in a fight with Ott. Ott would get a fighting major and a minor for a hit to the head. I'm sure the play will be looked at the NHL head office later today. Lander, who stayed down for a while following the hit, was back on the ice for a shift on the Oilers powerplay. It sure doesn't take the Oilers long to evaluate players after a head shot.
Jamie Benn would score the first of his two goals on the day with just over five minutes left in the second period. Benn who was surrounded by four Oilers standing around doing nothing got a pass from Trevor Daley and banged the puck past Nikolai Khabibulin from the top of the Oiler crease. In the third period Benn would again find the scoresheet giving the Stars a 2-1 lead. On the goal Jeff Petry allowed Adam Burish get behind him and establish himself in front of Khabibulin. When the shot deflected into the slot Burish and Khabibulin ended up on the ice leaving the net wide open for Benn.
The Stars took complete control of the game in the third period with chance after chance to extend their lead but it ended up being a shot from behind the night that finally got past Khabibulin. After skating through the Oilers defenders and behind the net Ribeiro simply threw the puck to the front of the net and got a lucky break when it deflected off Green. Ribeiro would find the scoresheet again in the third period with an empty net goal that iced the Stars win,
News and Notes:
- Following the game the Oilers assigned Green and Teemu Hartikainen to Oklahoma City. By my count that leaves the Oilers with 11 forwards including Eberle. The Oilers don't play again until Wednesday though so there's no rush to fill the roster spots just yet.
- In the first period Ales Hemsky let a pass from Hall go behind him and off the boards rather than break stride and take the pass on his stick. He then went to the Stars net for a good scoring chance. If you'd forgotten how good Hemsky is this pay should have reminded you.
- Theo Peckam and Jeff Petry continue to struggle. They both make a good play or two and then hand chances back as quickly as they can. Until the Oilers get some NHL defensemen in their lineup you can expect this to continue.
- Taylor Hall scored for the fourth game in a row today and now has 14 on the season. His six shots also lead the team. He now trails Ryan Smyth by three for the team lead in shots despite having played eight fewer games. He just makes things happen when he's on the ice it's as simple as that.