Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Game 8: Edmonton 3 Vancouver 2

For the first time in ages, the Edmonton Oilers have shown the ability to make teams pay that visit Rexall Place and that trend continued on Tuesday evening as the Oilers edged the Vacouver Canucks by a score of 3-2. The win moves Edmonton to an impressive 4-1-1 on home ice while the Canucks now sit a game below .500 on the road with a record of 2-3-0. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin continued his resurgence, with yet another stellar performance in goal, stopping 35 of 37 shots. While Roberto Luongo's October struggles hit a new low, as the netminder was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on only four shots in the middle stanza.

The Oilers attack was, once again, led by the kids as the line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle combined for two goals and five points on the evening. Eberle opened the scoring, just under two minutes into the second, on a outstanding feed from Hall and then fired a snapshot past a startled Luongo. The goal was the first of the year for the Regina native, who had been snake bitten all season long, despite numerous scoring chances. After Shawn Horcoff put the home side up a pair with his first of the campaign, it was Taylor Hall's goal at the 6:55 mark that put an end to Roberto Luongo's night in the Canucks goal.

The rest was left to Khabibulin and the Russian netminder did not disappoint. While the Canucks cut the lead to one, on goals from Cody Hodgson and Alex Burrows, the visitors were unable to even the score despite out shooting the Oilers 37 -22 on the night and by a margin of 12 - 5 in the third.

The one downside to the evening, was the injury to Ryan  Whitney. The hard luck blueliner seems incapable of buying a break, as he left the game in the first period after playing only five minutes. He and defence partner Corey Potter, accidentally clipped skates in the Oilers end and the contact sent Edmonton's top defenceman awkwardly too the ground. After struggling to the bench and taking one more quick shift, Whitney did not return. 

The Good
  • It was another standout performance by the "Bulin Wall" as the Oilers goalie made a number of big saves when the club needed them. Stats aside, Edmonton is getting vintage Khabibulin at the moment and not surprisingly, they are winning games because of it
  • I am starting to sound like a broken record but the Hall - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle line were buzzing all night long and created a ton of chances. Taylor Hall was all over the ice and with Jordan Eberle finally finding the back of the net, this line might really get going...which must be a scary thought for teams across the league.
  • The penalty kill was perfect again and Edmonton now sits fourth in the entire NHL with a rating of 91.4%. This is a team that has finished the last three seasons with a PK ranking of 27th, 26th and last years pathetic showing of 29th. Obviously, goaltending has played a huge role in the improvement but the teams overall positional play when short handed, is simply night and day compared to last year.
  • For the first time this season, Edmonton ran four lines all night long and no forward topped the 20 minute mark. It was a much needed adjustment, as players like Horcoff and Smyth were playing far too many minutes and the opposite was true for likes of Ben Eager and Anton Lander. Eager and Lennart Petrell were pounding bodies whenever the opportunity presented itself and made for a very effective fourth line.

The Bad
  • The line of Smyth-Horcoff-Jones were on the ice for both Vancouver goals and the trio did seem a little lethargic throughout the evening. With the trio playing far too many minutes of late, it seems like it has stated to catch to them. I will credit the staff for cutting their minutes tonight but it needs to be done on a nightly basis.
  • The lack of scoring from the forwards, outside of the top line, is a little alarming as the clubs nears the ten game mark. On most nights, the top unit is generating close to 90% of the teams scoring chances and that can't continue, if they want to be successful. The absence of Ales Hemsky is a big blow to the depth upfront but they have to make due until he returns. I would say it is time to take the bottom nine forwards, pull out the line blender and see what they can come up with.
  •  The right knee injury to Ryan Whitney could be a major concern. Playing in only his fourth game since returning from off season ankle surgery, the injury could not have come at a worse time for both the player and team. Whitney was slowly finding his game and this will make that process even harder, when he returns to the lineup. This D has been getting things done using smoke and mirrors and if Whitney is out for any length of time, the organization must go out and find a suitable replacement via trade.

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