In a game that featured the last three players selected first overall at the NHL Entry Draft, it was New York's John Tavares who stole the show. The 2009 top pick was all over the ice, in leading the Islanders to a 4-1 victory over the slumping Edmonton Oilers. The loss was Edmonton's third straight on their current seven game road trip and seventh defeat in their past eight contests. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made twenty-five saves in defeat but saw his record fall to 4-9 on the season and is currently on a four game losing streak.
The two sides came out flying to start their New Year's Eve afternoon/morning battle on Long Island and it was an absolute treat to watch. Both teams traded chances in what was the most entertaining period of hockey that I have seen this season. There were mistakes and giveaways all over the ice but the pace and wide open style of play made it all worth while.
With Ben Eager in the box serving his first of three minor penalties on the afternoon, New York would open the scoring at 3:44 mark. John Tavares scored his thirteenth of the season on the power play on a bit of a broken play but the puck found the talented centre and he promptly deposited the puck into a yawning Oilers goal.
The sides continued to exchange chances, which included Taylor Hall refiling a shot off the crossbar minutes after the Tavares goal but the score remind 1-0. Hall, who would hit another post before the period was out and another crossbar later in the game, and Tavares were on another level in the opening twenty. Their lines played head-to-head and when either player had the puck, I found myself inching to the edge of my seat and waiting for something spectacular to happen.
The Oilers did manage to even things up, when Corey Potter's point shot hit Sam Gagner in front a crowded Islanders goal and found its way past Evgeni Nabokov. The Islanders looked to take the lead back just seventeen seconds later, when Matt Moulson re-directed a pass with his skate past Dubnyk but the goal was waved off. In my mind, the Oilers got a break but they were unable to take advantage of their good fortune.
Moulson would get that goal back, when he finished an absolute gorgeous pass from Tavares on a two-on-one to give New York the lead heading into the first intermission. For the second consecutive game, Potter played a two-on-one poorly and left his goaltender little chance to make the stop.
The Islanders stretched their lead to 3-1 early in the second, when P.A. Parenteau scored New York's second power play goal on the afternoon...again courtesy of another bonehead penalty from Eager. Eager decided to rag-doll Matt Martin after the Islanders forward hit Ladislav Smid behind the Oilers net and Martin wanted to no part of it. In fairness to the Isles winger, he let up on the hit and had absolutely nothing to answer for...if anything he should be applauded for not trying to kill an opposing player like many players in this league do on a nightly basis. Yet Eager decided to jump in after the fact and picked up another silly penalty and it cost Edmonton big time.
To make matters worse, Martin would make it 4-1 when his harmless shot from the corner somehow eluded Dubnyk in the Oilers net. The goal came only forty-five seconds after the Parenteau marker and this scenario has unfortunately become the norm in Devan Dubnyk's game. He tends to not only let in a weak a game but he does it at the worst possible times. The goal was a back breaker and Edmonton never recovered.
As good as the first period was, the final thirty-five minutes was one of the worst performances this club has put together this season. The Islanders simply dominated the Oilers over that stretch and that simply can't happen. New York is a team Edmonton should probably beat but they are definitely a team that should not dominate the Oilers at any point.
With Edmonton 0-3 on the clubs current seven game road trip, things don't seem likely to improve anytime soon. With games this week in Chicago, Buffalo, St.Louis and Dallas this could get really ugly in a hurry. Especially if you consider the last time the Oilers played the Hawks, Edmonton pounded the Western Conference leaders by a score of 9-2. Don't be surprised if Monday night's game in Chicago turns out being a very long one for the Oilers.
- The best Oiler on the ice was once again Taylor Hall. He was flying from the get-go and while he didn't hit the score sheet, he did hit three goal posts and setup numerous teammates for scoring chance but none of them were able to beat Nabokov in the Islanders net. Hall is arguably playing the best hockey of his young career and looks to be improving every time out.
- Defenceman Andy Sutton was solid in his return to the lineup after missing the previous eight via suspension. Sutton picked up a secondary assist on Edmonton's lone goal, blocked four shots on the night and managed to lay a big hit on John Tavares. All and all, it was a successful return for Sutton who has turned out to be a pretty solid acquisition for the Oilers...that is when he hasn't been suspended.
- To say Ben Eager hindered the Oilers in their efforts to snap their three game losing streak is an understatement. Eager picked up not one but two minor penalties that led to two New York power play goals and after being benched, Eager managed to pick up another minor and misconduct from the bench! Not much else needs to be said.
- Devan Dubnyk was again average at best and let in his one god awful goal a game. Dubnyk came in for Nikolai Khabibulin against Minnesota and was rock solid in relief and earned an opportunity to start against the Islanders. Unfortunately for Dubnyk, he dropped the ball yet again and it is getting hard to justify starting him at any point. If the club thinks the season is now a lost cause, it would make sense to just rotate the two netminders the rest of the way but if they want to maintain the image that they are trying to win hockey games, then Dubnyk can't be starting games.
- The Oilers veterans continue to produce next to nothing for this club and many are now starting to look like they are going thru the motions on ice. It comes down to production and there is simply none come from the veteran core group on this roster. Captain Shawn Horcoff has one goal in his last fifteen games. Ryan Smyth has two in his last fifteen. Sam Gagner has four goals all season and Ales Hemsky has three. Add to that, Eric Belanger having one goal on the campaign and that one was kicked into the net, it is no surprise that this team can't win games. Their kids having been performing all year long but without any sort of help from the veteran players, it is too much of a load for the youngsters to carry. The time may once again be at hand to split the kids up because the rest of this lineup continues to produce nothing.
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