The Vancouver Canucks came into last night's game at Rexall Place on the heels of a 6-2 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs and showed no signs of slowing down, in dismantling an over-matched Oilers side by a score of 5-2. The line of Alex Burrows, Henrik and Daniel Sedin led the way with two points a piece and netminder Cory Schneider made twenty-six saves, to earn his thirteenth victory of the season. Edmonton winger Magnus Paajarvi, picked up his second goal in his last four games after going goalless in his first thirty-four contests.
It took the Canucks less the minute to open the scoring, courtesy of Henrik Sedin and some horrendous back checking by Edmonton's supposed "checking line". For reasons known only to this coaching staff, they continue to employ the line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones against teams with elite first lines, despite being routinely schooled by their opposition. Tonight would be no exception, as the line was out for three of the four Vancouver even strength goals. Last time I checked, the purpose of a checking line is to keep your opponent from scoring but that doesn't seem to be the case as far the Oilers are concerned.
The visitors would double their advantage, thanks to two awful calls from the officials. This put the Oilers down two men and the Canucks up a pair of goals, in a matter of moments. Sami Salo would rip his eighth of the season past a stunned Nikolai Khabibulin and just like that, this one was all but over. Vancouver continued to press but thanks to some sensational goaltending from Khabibulin, the deficit remained only two goals. Though the "checking line" did their best to make it a three goal cushion, courtesy of yet another turnover from Smyth that resulted in another goal against. However, Edmonton caught a break when Manny Maholtra's apparent goal was waived off on what was a terrible reversal on video review. Call it even, as the goal being wiped out offset the penalty calls earlier in the period.
The shots were 17-5 after the first and marked the end of the night for the veteran Russian netminder. At some point during the opening period onslaught, Khabby tweaked his groin and was replaced by Devan Dubnyk to start the second. The moved seemed to spark the Oilers, as they started to take control early in the middle frame and were rewarded just over a minute in. After pinning Vancouver in their end, it would be the third line that would cut the lead in half, as Horcoff snapped his eleventh of the season between Schneider's pads to cut the lead to one. Edmonton had life and the momentum on their side.
They continued to press but it was the visitors who would strike in quick succession to extend their lead, despite not testing Dubnyk until the midway point of the period. Kevin Bieksa's point shot found it's way past Devan at the 15:01 mark and just over a minute and a half later, Chris Higgins would make it 4-1 on a shot to the glove side that an NHL goalie has to have. The only goalies in this league, that are routinely beat on that type of shot are Dubnyk and the Maple Leafs James Reimer. Not surprising, when you realize that both men own of one of the worst glove hands in the game today.
Before the period was out, Paajarvi would cut the lead to two, when he one timed a beautiful cross ice feed from Ales Hemsky for second of the season. The duo are starting to form some nice chemistry since being put together and one could only think of what might have been, if they had made the move much earlier in the season. It was 4-2 heading into the final frame but it seemed like Edmonton had a chance to get back into this one.
That lasted all of thirty-three seconds, as Daniel Sedin restored the three goal lead thanks to a bad giveaway from Tom Gilbert. That was the third puck to get behind Dubnyk, on just six shots. As bad as the Oilers started out, if Devan would have simply made a save or two this one could have been different. This game should have been over in the first but thanks to Khabibulin, they still had a chance. Unfortunately, Dubnyk was not up to the task at hand.
- The continued strong play of Magnus Paajarvi is a great thing to see. He finally looks comfortable and the fact that he is finally playing with another talented guy in Hemsky, obviously makes a world of difference. He looks more confident with the puck and is starting to go to the net. Could he be better? For sure but this is a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully things don't go south if the club decides to move Hemsky. That being said, the addition of Linus Omark back into the fold should help with any shortcomings that may follow.
- The tandem of Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry continued to look good together, while the other two pairings continue to struggles. Smid seemed far more patient tonight then in recent outings and Petry is starting to look more and more like the steady D man that every one was hoping he would become. At one point, they decided to put the Gilbert-Smid pairing back together and it wouldn't shock me in the least if we see those two back together against the Flames.
- The combination of Khabibulin's groin issue and Dubnyk's poor play, leaves the Oilers with a bit of an issue in goal. Everyone keeps talking abut giving Devan the ball but if he plays like he did last night, there is nothing to give him. He needs to show he's the guy whenever he gets a chance and not play well in pockets. If he wants this starting job, he needs to be lights out over the final twenty-four games.
- Tom Gilbert hasn't been good since returning from injury and last night was probably his worst game of the season. Gilbert seems to be rushing things and the old Tom Gilbert is starting to creep back into his game. He gave up the puck all night long, which led directly to numerous scoring chances for the Canucks. It looks as though the struggling blueliner will be reunited with Smid, which might just be what the doctored ordered.
- Ben Eager came out and did his best to engage the Canucks physically but was given a penalty for his troubles. That brutal call combined with the fact that the Oilers fell behind early, saw Eager have his ice time limited to just over six minutes. Not exactly the wisest move, when you consider he is one of the only forwards who is willing to throw the body and has been one of their most effective forwards in recent weeks. If anything, Ben has earned the opportunity to be given a shot on the third line.