Sunday, February 26, 2012
Game 61: Phoenix 3 Edmonton 1
To say the Phoenix Coyotes have been one of the league's biggest surprises would be a major understatement. With their less then enthralling 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday afternoon, the Coyotes improved to 10-0-1 for the month of February and now sit a top the Pacific Division, two points clear of the San Jose Sharks. Rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returned to the Oilers lineup and scored their lone goal, in what was the club's first game since re-signing star winger Ales Hemsky to a two year contract extension.
While Phoenix doesn't exactly play the most exhilarating brand of hockey, they do what they have to and do it well. The Oilers were coming off two of their best all around performances in months and were looking to stretch their modest two game winning streak to three in a row. The visitors would have none of that and brought the game to grinding halt from the drop of the puck and were helped out immensely by a lucky bounce to open the scoring.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson's harmless looking point shot deflected off Jordan Eberle's stick, then Jeff Petry and past a helpless Devan Dubnyk, to give the Coyotes an 1-0 lead just before the six minute mark. The goal was the talented blueliners eighth of the season, in what has been a breakout campaign for the twenty year old Swedish standout.
To say the opening twenty minutes were rather uneventful, would be kind but at least the fans were treated to a tussle between Twitter sensation Paul Bissonnette and Edmonton tough guy Darcy Hordichuk. Unfortunately for the Rexall faithful, the scrap was very much like the on ice action...uninspiring. To make matters worse, Phoenix would extend their lead late in the first, on a goal that both Ryan Whitney and Dubnyk would love to have back.
Former Oiler and Fort Saskatchewan native Ray Whitney, once again, scored against his favourite team growing up and this one was a beauty. The thirty-nine year old winger picked the puck up just outside the Edmonton blueline and proceeded to dance around Ryan Whitney, as if he were a pylon, and slipped a quick shot underneath the Oilers netminder for his eighteenth on the season. As nice as play was, Dubnyk simply can't let that one slip in. Bad goals are part of the game but it's when you allow them that can be a back breaker. That goal made it 2-0, with just over a minute to play and made Edmonton's attempt at coming back, even more difficult.
After a scoreless second period, the game finally started to come to life in the third when the Oilers found their legs. Through the opening forty minutes, the only line that was able to sustain any sort of attack was the Hall- Nugent-Hopkins - Hemsky trio. Not surprisingly, it would be that unit that would get the home side on the board. After gaining the Phoenix blueline, Hall found Hemsky along the side boards, who then proceeded to send a lovely pass towards the Coyotes goal that RNH neatly deflected past netminder Mike Smith, to cut the lead in half. The goal was his fourteenth of the season and moved him within five points of the rookie scoring lead, despite missing twenty games due to injury.
Edmonton continued to press but were unable to find the equalizer. Smith stood tall and made his best save of the game off Hemsky at the lip of the crease, with just over six minutes to play. With the Oilers continuing to swarm the Coyotes, defenceman Adrian Aucoin managed to corral a loose puck and quickly moved it up to Keith Yandle who promptly found Shane Doan who broke in on a two-on-one break. Doan would make Edmonton pay as he made no mistake, zipping a shot past Dubnyk and putting this one to bed.
The Oilers are now off until Monday night when they will face the Winnipeg Jets. With Monday afternoon being Trade Deadline day, Edmonton was expected to be one of the busier teams but with recent signings, that may no longer be the case. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who's name is still being mentioned in rumours, hopes to be healed up and ready to go in the city where he started his NHL career. Lets hope the veteran netminder is healthy enough to get the start, in what would likely be a special moment for both Khabibulin and the fans in Winnipeg