Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Just what the doctor ordered
It is funny how quickly things can change in the world sport. On Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers left the Rexall Place playing surface to a chorus of boos following an embarrassing effort against the St. Louis Blues. Fast forward roughly forty-eight hours and the Oilers faithful were once again behind their squad, as Edmonton exploded for six goals in downing the Winnipeg Jets 6-2.
Taylor Hall led the way on the scoresheet with yet another three point night, while the quartet of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron and Nail Yakupov all chipped in with two point efforts for good measure. The offensive outburst not only put an end to the Oilers rather ugly six game losing skid but more importantly, it also sent both the team and their fans into the three day Christmas break on a positive note.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the boys in Orange and Blue playing in their own barn, it has either been feast or famine and more often than not…it has been the latter. That said, at least for one evening, these fans were treated to a full sixty minute effort and for the first time in what seems like ages, a group of players that actually decided to stand up for themselves and not be pushed around by their opposition.
It was sure nice to see the likes of Eberle and Yakupov light the lamp for the first time in two weeks. Ditto for the duo of Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth, who put together just an outstanding opening twenty minutes of hockey, in helping this group find its way back from their debacle on Hockey Night in Canada. There were plenty of positive signs on the night as a whole but none compared to what we witnessed during the third period.
While the Oilers have had their struggles of late, the Jets haven’t been a whole lot better. Coupled with their disappointing 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, Winnipeg has now won just two of their past eight games and their frustrations started to show on the ice at Rexall Place. As if losing wasn’t bad enough, being pumped by the team which is currently nestled in the basement of the Western Conference standings seemed to put Claude Noels’ group over the edge.
After cross-checking Sam Gagner into the boards early in the third period and having the ensuing penalty lead directly to Taylor Hall making it a 5-2 game, Mark Stuart decided to take a healthy run at Yakupov his next time out. To his credit, Luke Gazdic what he is supposed to do and instantly went after Stuart.
With both guys off serving fighting majors, the young Russian sniper would add another to make it 6-2 and the Jets had apparently seen enough. Earlier in the evening, Yakupov had taken a run at netminder Ondrej Pavelec but went unpunished, as both on ice officials simply missed the forearm shiver he delivered to the Jets starting netminder’s head. On the ensuing faceoff, Andrew Laad took a couple of healthy hacks at the former first overall pick and when the youngster decided to stand his ground, things would get a little heated.
Not only did Zach Bogosian come over and spear the Oilers #64 but Bryan Little went right after the former Sarina Sting standout. To their credit, both Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz came to the defence of their teammate in what turned into a bit of a melee. While one would expect such a response from the Oilers captain, it was definitely out of character for the mild-mannered Schultz.
Yet he willingly stood up and did what he had to do. For far too long, this team has simply turned the other cheek when physically challenged and it has never sat well with the vast majority of their fan base. In the blink of an eye, a building which two days earlier had seen just about enough of the train wreck that had become the 2013-14 edition of the Edmonton Oilers, had suddenly relocated their Oilers pride.
After watching their team put together an honest effort from start to finish and playing with a bit of a burr in their saddle for what genuinely felt like an eternity, all seemed to be forgiven in Oil Country…at least for one night. At end of the day, it still all comes down to winning hockey game.
While the two points they earned last night mean absolutely nothing in the standings, they were points this group had to have heading into their three day hiatus. That said, watching them finally standup for one another and, to steal a phrase from head coach Dallas Eakins, “stay in the fight”, could ultimately be the far bigger win for this organization…both on the ice and in the stands.