While last night's Oilers vs Leafs game was far from a masterpiece, it sure was fun too watch. Neither Edmonton or Toronto paid much attention to their own zones and hence fans were treated to wide open and mistake filled contest. In the end, the Leafs took full advantage of some brutal giveaways on route to a 6-3 victory and are now 5-0-1 in their past six games. The loss leaves Edmonton with a 1-15-1 mark in their past seventeen road games, as they continue to struggle mightily away from Rexall Place. To make matters worse, rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left the game early in the third period after re-aggravating a left shoulder injury.
The Oilers started this one off with a bang as Jordan Eberle notched in his twenty-third of the season, just twenty-one seconds into the game. Toronto netminder James Reimer came into the game with back-to-back shutouts but it didn't take the visitors long to put an end to that run. Edmonton carried much of the play early on but the Leafs started to turn the tide at the five minute mark and would find the equalizer minutes later.
Phil Kessel stripped defenceman Corey Potter in front of the Oilers net and one quick Mikhail Grabovski touch pass later, saw Clarke MacArthur snap a shot past Devan Dubnyk. The goal was MacArthur's seventeenth of the season and brought the home side to life.
Toronto would then take their first lead, courtesy of a lovely rush from Grabovski and some horrendous coverage by the Oilers in their own end. First, Cam Barker allowed Grabovski to fly past him without much of a fight at the Edmonton blueline. Then three of the remaining four Edmonton players, decided to collapse in front of the goal and cover each other while leaving defenceman Jake Gardiner unmarked in the slot. Just like that, the momentum and lead were gone but that didn't last long in this see-saw affair.
Less then four minutes later, Eberle would finish a beautiful three way passing play for what was easily the nicest goal of the night. Taylor Hall started the play by gaining the Leafs zone, stopping on a dime and finding a streaking Eberle. Instead of forcing the play, Eberle hit a pinching Jeff Petry who almost instantly hit the Oilers leading scorer with a return feed and he made no mistake. That was the youngster's second of the night and moved him back into the top ten in league scoring. Eberle currently sits with 54 points and the second year winger is only seven points shy of top scorer Evgeni Malkin.
Moments later, the Leafs would catch a huge break when an apparent Ryan Smyth goal was mistakenly waived off. In what turned out to be a crucial play, Toronto was the beneficiary of the bad call and that left the score even heading into the intermission.
The second period saw Edmonton fall apart, as they continually gave the puck away and simply handed goals to both Kessel and Tyler Bozak before the period was even five minutes old. The Oilers would get one of those back, when Petry's point shot found its way past Reimer but almost on cue, Edmonton would give away the puck one more time, which led directly to Joffrey Lupul's twenty-first of the season, with just over three minutes to play in the middle frame. Toronto got another break on this one, as Lupul clearly closed his hand on the puck before dropping it to the ice and depositing it into a gaping net. That's two big plays that went against the Oilers, that were blown calls on the officials part. Make no mistake, Edmonton didn't play well enough to win but the Leafs got all the breaks.
Despite a poor second period, Edmonton brought it to start the third and had the Leafs pinned in their end but couldn't sneak another one past Reimer, who made a stunning blocker save off Ben Eager early in the third on a two-on-one break. Kessel would close out the scoring, with his second of the night into an empty net.
To make the night complete, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left early in the third period after being hit by Toronto forward Mike Brown. He was clearly favouring his shoulder on the Edmonton bench but there was no immediate word on how severe the injury might be. This was the rookie's second game back after missing the teams previous thirteen games.
- The continued strong play of the Hall - Gagner - Eberle line. The trio had their challenges in their own end but they were a threat all night long. Gagner has come back down to earth from his eight point night but the talented centre is looking comfortable between the Oilers two franchise wingers.
- While the Edmonton defence was dreadful for most of the evening, the duo of Petry and Ladislav Smid were very solid. While the other four blueliners looked overwhelmed trying to deal with the speed of the Maple Leafs forwards, the pair seemed under control throughout the game. Smid was a solid +3 on the night while Petry was +2 and picked up two points, including his second goal of the season.
- As mentioned, the defence outside of Smid and Petry were terrible...with Barker and Potter being extra special on the evening. Barker looked brutal on the Leafs second goal and only got worse as the game progressed. Outside of the Detroit game, Potter has been poor for the last month and last night was more of the same. Ryan Whitney struggled badly dealing with the speedy Toronto forward group and Tom Gilbert returned to the line up but looked rusty after missing the previous fourteen games. While Edmonton doesn't have great depth on the backend, they are finally somewhat healthy and can finally look to sit players that are under performing.
- Devan Dubnyk was making his sixth consecutive start and while he received little support, the big guy wasn't very good. After allowing four goals against in his previous two starts, Dubnyk let five more get by him against the Leafs and was unable to make the timely save, that he had made against both the Hawks and Wings. It's been a nice run but it is time for Devan to take a seat and get Nikolai Khabibulin back in between the pipes. Dubnyk should get the majority of starts down the stretch but their is no need to over due it and force feed him games when he is showing signs of slipping.
- With the apparent injury to RNH, this team looks to be a team with only one scoring line. When the Nuge returned, the idea was ti have him play with one of Eberle or Hall and then have the other on a line with Sam Gagner, after the current hot stretch ran its course. Unfortunately, the injury to Ryan changes everything. Ales Hemsky looks go some nights and not so much on others. Ryan Smyth looks worse with each passing game and at this point, should be playing on the third line with power play time and the trio of Jones - Belanger - Horcoff may just be the coldest line in the NHL. Lets hope the rookie centre's injury isn't too bad or this will be a very long final thirty games.
- Ice time has been an issue all season long with this coaching staff and nothing I see tells me that will change anytime soon. Even with the great start the top line had in the first, the line of Jones - Belanger - Horcoff led in ice time after one...why do you ask? Good question and there is no good answer. At the end of the night the stats look better because they gave the first line more minutes late in order to try and tie it up but by that time, the damage had been done. Even in their win on Saturday night against Detroit, the Gagner line played less then the other two lines even with that line being as hot as they are. It doesn't make sense and the only explanation, they don't trust the kids to hold a lead. The reason you have that lead to begin with is because of your skilled players so why not play them more and make the opposition stop them? Instead this staff always thinks safe first and by using that line of thinking, they regularly take this teams best players off the ice, to be replaced by inferior veteran players. Frankly, it makes absolutely no sense.