Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Game 39: Buffalo 4 Edmonton 3

An undermanned Edmonton Oilers squad fought hard against an equally hurting Buffalo Sabre side but fell just short, losing for the fourth time on their current road trip, this time by a score of 4-3. Call-up Josh Green had a tough night first time out, going -4 but he was not alone as linemates Shawn Horcoff and fellow call-up Teemu Hatikainen, were both -3 on the night. Nikolai Khabibulin returned to the Oilers net and made 25 saves but has now lost three consecutive starts. Edmonton was missing both rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenceman Tom Gilbert from their lineup after being injured Monday night in Chicago.

Edmonton was the stronger of the two sides to start the game and they were rewarded with the opening goal. Taylor Hall potted his twelfth of the season, when he surprised Sabres starter Ryan Miller with a quick shot to put the Oilers up at the 10:33 mark. Hall took a lovely feed from Ales Hemsky and broke in a fired a low shot just past the Sabre netminder's outstretched glove. The assist was a big one for Hemsky, who had gone the previous nine games without registering a point. The Oilers were up 1-0 on the scoreboard and held a 12-2 advantage on the shot clock.

The Sabres would tie things up just under four minutes later, when Jason Pominville surprised Khabibulin with a quick snap shot past the netminders blocker. Like Miller on Hall's goal, Khabibulin didn't play the shot particular well and the 1-1 score line seemed just heading into the first intermission.

Buffalo would take the lead five minutes into the second, when the Horcoff line got caught running around in their zone and Hartikainen lost his mark in Jordan Leopold. The defenceman made Edmonton pay for the blunder by firing a bullet past the stunned Oilers goaltender. The Oilers looked like they tied things up seconds later when a Corey Potter shot beat Miller but the goal was waived off when Hemsky was whistled down for goaltender interference. Upon further review, it was clear Miller took a dive on the play but that did Edmonton little good.

To the Oilers credit, they didn't allow the bad call to get them down and would come back to tie things up when Sam Gagner rifled his fifth on the campaign past Miller on a five-on-three power play. Edmonton nearly went ahead when Jordan Eberle undressed a couple of Sabres and Miller but was unable to sneak the puck past a outstretched Miller. The teams went into the third tied at two but it was the home side that would take things over and dominate the final twenty minutes.

The Oilers were simply out of gas in the third and if not for three or four huge saves from Khabibulin in the opening fifteen minutes, this game would have been over much earlier them it was. Brad Boyes was absolutely stoned twice by the Edmonton shot stopper from the slot but it was just a matter of time before Buffalo would break through.

Drew Stafford pounced on a loose puck and put a quick shot past the Oilers netminder, seconds before the clock hit the fifteen minute mark. Once again, it was the trio of Hartikainen - Horcoff - Green that were caught in their own end and not one did a thing to help their goaltender on the play.

Two minutes later, Nathan Gerbe would be sent in all alone and beat Khabibulin with a nifty backhand to put the Sabres up a pair. Gerbe somehow went unnoticed by both Jeff Petry and Andy Sutton, which allowed the little forward to sneak in behind both blueliners and take a hail-mary type pass which sent him in all alone on Khabibulin.

Potter would bring the Oilers back to within one, when he ripped a bullet off the bar and past Miller after Eberle had driven to the net and opened up a lane for the hard charging defenceman. Edmonton would pull Khabibulin in the final minute in hopes of finding the equalizer but they were unable to tie things up.

In a rather curious move, leading scorer Jordan Eberle was not one of the six Oiler players on the ice in the final minute and frankly didn't see much ice time on the night. Eberle played less the twelve minutes at even strength, which was less then both Anton Lander and Hartikainen and only twenty more seconds than Green. If the plan was to try and play without both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle in Buffalo, the Edmonton coaching staff did a masterful job of accomplishing just that.

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