It seemed rather fitting, that on the day the Ottawa Senators honoured # 4 Chris Phillips, it was the Oilers # 4, Taylor Hall, who would be the difference maker. The former first overall selection scored seventeen seconds into OT and propelled the visitors to a 4-3 victory to kick off CBC's coverage of Hockey Day in Canada. Netminder Nikolai Khabibulin stole the show stopping thirty-nine shots and forward Magnus Paajarvi, scored his first goal of the season after being held off the score sheet the previous thirty-four games.
After paying tribute to Phillips in a pre-game ceremony for recently playing in his 1,000th career game, it would be the Senators who would come out flying. Daniel Alfredsson would put Ottawa in front with his nineteenth of the year to give the home side the lead just 4:26 into the proceedings. That score line would hold until the intermission but the only reason this one was close, was the Oilers goaltender. Khabibulin made sixteen first period stops, many of which were of the highlight reel variety.
The middle frame featured a plethora of chances from both sides but neither netminder would budge. That all changed at the 14:05 mark, when Paajarvi banged in a rebound to even things up. Ales Hemsky made a great play leading up to what must have felt like a milestone goal to the young Swede. Magnus was Johnny-on-the-spot to bury the juicy rebound left by Craig Anderson and looked to the heaven's after ending his goal scoring misery. It was obviously a huge moment for the second year winger and it gave his side new life.
Unfortunately, it would take the Sens less then three minutes to regain the lead. After setting up Edmonton's opening goal, Hemsky would turnover the puck at the Ottawa blueline and seconds later, they found themselves 2-1. Jason Spezza sent in Milan Michalek with a lovely pass and the talented winger made no mistake, scoring his twenty-fourth of the season and first in thirteen games.
Edmonton would manage to tie things up before the period was out, courtesy of Ben Eager. Eager broke in on a partial break and beat Anderson with just over a minute remaining, to even things up. The open space the speedy winger found, came to fruition thanks to a timely pick from the Oilers Ryan Jones. While the Sens were unhappy with the non-call, the fact remained this game was knotted at two heading into the final frame.
The Oilers wasted little time in securing their first lead of the afternoon, when Hemsky setup Shawn Horcoff for an easy tap in goal, just forty-two seconds in. The goal was only the third in the past thirty-three games for the struggling centre but it couldn't have come at a better time. Hemsky and Paajarvi both picked up assists, giving Edmonton's second line six points between them and the secondary scoring this club had desperately been waiting for.
This time it was the Senators turn to come back, when defencman Erik Karlsson would fire his ninth of the year through a maze of players and past Khabibulin to tie it at three, with just over ten minutes to play.. Defenceman Jeff Petry had a chance to move the puck up ice and out of danger but instead saw his clearing attempt land directly on the stick of the Sens talented blueliner.
Edmonton came close to ending it in regulation but Anderson stoned Sam Gagner at the doorstep with a brilliant blocker save with less then ten seconds to play. Just like the third period, it would take the Oilers a matter of seconds to find the back of the net and it was their star pupil who would get the job done.
After being benched in the opening period and not having much luck throughout the afternoon, Taylor Hall would make amends by scoring his nineteenth of the season and end this one in overtime. Hall flew up the ice after picking up the puck in his own end and fired a quick shot from the sideboards that Anderson stopped but kicked directly into the slot. A streaking Horcoff would pick up the rebound but he partially whiffed on his attempt and allowed the Senators netminder to scramble over and make the stop but the freewheeling Hall came from behind the goal and would bat the winner out of mid-air and into a gaping net for the win.
The victory gave Edmonton a 1-2 mark on their three game road trip and was just the seventh time the club has picked up a W away from Rexall Place this year. They now head home, where they will play seven of their next nine games, starting on Wednesday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town.
- The play of the Hemsky - Horcoff - Paajarvi line was a site for sore eyes. This team had been running on whatever scoring it's top line could provide but not much else. The trio played well with Hemsky looking like the Hemsky of old and Paajarvi looking more like the player he was in his rookie campaign, rather then the guy who has been skating around wearing his # 91 jersey this season. They were a threat for much of the afternoon and with any luck, could've had a couple of more goals.
- Their were many people that were unhappy and somewhat perplexed as to why Khabibulin got the call in net but it was the right call to make. The coaching staff had previously stated they would be going with the "win and your in" approach and hence most assumed we would see Devan Dubnyk in between the pipes. Tom Renney felt the team didn't compete hard enough against the Wings and that his veteran netminder deserved another crack and good thing he did. Khabby was outstanding throughout the afternoon and if not for his play, Edmonton would surely have been down three or four before the first period was over. The win was Nikolai's first since Dec.22nd and put an end to his personal nine game losing streak.
- Ben Eager continued his much improved play and picked up his sixth goal on the season. At this stage of the game, I think Eager has earned a shot at playing on the third line. He has shown to be much more engaged when he is given more minutes and his play over the last half of the year, has earned him a chance at those minutes. Other then Ryan Jones, Ben has scored more goals then any forward that has regularly played in Edmonton's bottom six and he has been far better then Jones over the last twenty or so games.Honestly can't see what it would hurt and it might just put him in a much better mindset moving forward.
- The decision to bench Taylor Hall in the first period after taking two minor penalties was simply asinine and the fact that the Oilers top line played less five-on-five, in the first period, then every forward accept Eager is simply ridiculous. Ten minutes into this one, the supposed first line had seen all of one minute of ice time and not surprisingly, Ottawa was taking it to Edmonton. If it wasn't for their goaltender, this one would've been over by that point and much of that lands directly at the feet of the coaching staff. This team has been running on their top line for some time now but for the second straight game, there minutes have been limited and it makes absolutely no sense. As far as Hall's benching goes, there clearly is a double standard and two sets of rules on this team. Eric Belanger took two penalties in Detroit and never missed a shift while Ryan Smyth has taken countless stupid penalties throughout the season and has never been sat. Taylor took two minors, one courtesy of an awful pass from Ladislav Smid and the other for goaltender interference, which is a Smyth specialty..Instead of playing his top players more and getting them into the game, Renney decided to bench his best player and continued to look elsewhere and frankly, it is rather disturbing. Not sure if he has noticed but he does currently have the option of putting the hottest line in the NHL out there...and yet, the only line that played less five-on-five was the fourth line.