For the second time this week, fans at Rexall Place we treated to suffocating hockey at its finest. Not sure if it has something to do with the Pacific Division but the Dallas Stars came into Edmonton and did exactly what the Phoenix Coyotes did last Saturday afternoon. They managed to lull both the Edmonton Oilers and their fans to sleep, before skating away with a crucial but uninspiring 3-1 victory on Friday night. In a game that featured a combined shot total of thirty-four, the Oilers could do little to find a way through a Dallas side that at certain points, lined up all five skaters at their blueline...with the puck behind the Edmonton goal. The game also marked the return of former Oiler Sheldon Souray. While the veteran D man did not register a point in his first trip back to Edmonton, he played over twenty-minutes and was a solid +2 despite hearing the boo-birds, every time he touched the puck.
After barely keeping the fans at Rexall Place awake through opening twenty-eight minutes of play, the game finally got its first goal. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was Dallas who would open the scoring on just their seventh shot of the game. Coach Tom Renney decided to replace Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a defensive zone faceoff against the Stars fourth line, with Eric Belanger and the move proved costly. Belanger not only lost the face-off but decided to halfheartedly defend former Oiler Radek Dvorak, in front of the Edmonton net on the ensuing scoring chance and Dvorak nudged the loose puck past netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. While the goal was only his fourth of the season and first since December 1st, it was the second time this season that the former thirty goal man has scored against his old team.
Just over four minutes later, the Stars would make it a two goal lead thanks to a poor decision by defenceman Cory Potter. With Dallas pushing forward on a three-on-two break, Potter was caught up ice but was skating back to help break up a potential scoring chance. Instead, the Oiler blueliner bumped into his netminder and inadvertently pushed him towards the end boards. The Stars accomplished nothing with the odd man rush but with Khabibulin behind the net, the puck found its way out front to former Edmonton Oil King Tomas Vincour, who tapped the puck into the yawning cage for his third of the year.
Through two periods of play, Edmonton held a 16-10 edge on the shot clock but had barely tested Kari Lehtonen. Outside of a couple of saves in tight off Lennart Petrell and a stop off Jordan Eberle in the slot, the goaltender had little to do and that didn't change in the final frame.
The third period saw each side register four shots on net that amounted to very little. With Khabibulin on the bench for an extra attacker, Michael Ryder put this one to bed by sliding his twenty-seventh of the season into the empty cage. Sam Gagner would break Lehtonen's shutout bid with thirty seconds left to play. The suddenly struggling centre, buried a beautiful feed from Ales Hemsky for his fifteenth on the campaign.
Edmonton's top ranked power play did not see the ice all night long and have had only one opportunity on the man advantage in the past two games. Referees across the league have seemed to put their whistles away and it is definitely hurting the under-sized but highly skilled Oilers.