Monday, November 10, 2014

The Wins Just Keep Coming Out East

So maybe there is something to this Eastern Conference thing after all. 

After putting together what was by far and away their finest all-around performance of the season, albeit against a New York Rangers side who have not only had their blueline decimated by injury but were also less than twenty-four removed from dropping a 5-4 decision to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Edmonton Oilers are staring at the real possibility of coming home from their current five game road swing with a winning record. 

Yesterday’s 3-1 victory pushed the Oilers record to an impressive 6-2 when facing teams from out east but unfortunately for them, it does them next to no good when it comes to trying to make up ground in the Western Conference standings…especially when you are the “proud” owners of an 0-6 mark against teams out in their neck of the woods. 

Apparently all Benoit Pouliot needed to snap out of his offensive scoring slump was a trip back to his old stomping grounds in New York City. In his return to Madison Square Garden, the twenty-eight year old delivered what was easily his finest performance to date in Oilers silks, picking up a pair of points and scoring what turned out to be the eventual game-winner against his former team. 

As good as Pouliot played, there was no question as to who the best player on the ice for either team was, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continued his strong start to the year with a two point effort of his own and another solid all-around performance. The former first overall puck was buzzing from the opening shift and was a thorn in the side of Henrik Lundqvist and the rest of his Ranger teammates for the entire sixty minutes. 

After peppering Buffalo Sabres starter Michal Neuvirth with 52 shots during their 3-2 win on Friday night, Edmonton were not quite so trigger happy in New York but still managed to out shoot their opponent by a 33-21 margin, In fact, if it were not for a handful of monster stops from King Henrik, most notably an absolutely spectacular glove robbery off Justin Schultz from the lip of his goal crease, this one could have very easily wound up being a cake walk for Dallas Eakins’ squad. 

While the Rangers were nowhere near their best, the Oilers came into this one riding a wave of momentum after not only posting their first road win of the campaign in Buffalo but also their first “W” since losing Taylor Hall to a knee injury against the Vancouver Canucks. Considering how this trip started in Philadelphia and Boston, having this team bounce back in the fashion they have was no automatic. 

Netminder Viktor Fasth made his second consecutive start and just as he did against the Sabres, the veteran Swedish puck-stopper made a handful of key stops when called upon. With that said, he also had the good fortune of playing in front of a group that, at least for one night, did not look completely out of their element in their own end of the rink. It was solid performance and one that should lead to the thirty-two year old receiving his third straight starting assignment on Tuesday when Edmonton will closeout their trip in Nashville against Pekka Rinne and the Predators. 

Defenceman Andre Ference returned to action after serving his three game suspension for his hit on Canucks forward Zack Kassian and ended up trailing only Justin Schultz in overall ice-time among the Oilers blueliners. In order to make room for his captain, Eakins had to make a move on the backend and instead of pulling Keith Aulie from the lineup, it was Martin Marincin who was once again handed the role of designated popcorn eater…grabbing a spot alongside fellow youngster Oscar Klefbom in the pressbox. 

Not exactly an ideal situation by any stretch but at this stage of the game, all this coaching staff is concerning themselves is winning hockey games and frankly, who can blame them. Now do I believe for a second that having Aulie in the lineup played any sort of meaningful part in this team winning back-to-back games? Not at all but at the end of the day…two points are two points and this team can ill-afford to allow many more to slip away from them. 

So if the coaches believe this is the lineup that gives them their best shot at winning…so be it. Though if that is indeed the case, barring some sort of injury, one would think both Klefbom and Marincin will find themselves back in Oklahoma City following the Oilers clash with the Preds. 

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