Edmonton - Oct. 28, 2011 - The Edmonton Oilers continued their early season success by defeating the previously undefeated Washington Capitals by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle both scored on the power play for the home team but it was a heroic performance from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, that was the difference.
The Russian netminder stood tall all night long but was all world in the third period. He withstood a nineteen shot barrage, in the final stanza, and made seven or eight highlight reel saves to preserve the victory.
The Caps had not been through Edmonton since the 2009 season, which is far too long a time between visits for one of the most exciting teams in the league. The speed at which they move from zone to zone is an absolute joy to watch and down right frightening at the same time. Edmonton decided to put the line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones up against Alex Ovechkin and company, in hopes that they could slow down the high flying Capitals.
While Washington's top line was held off the score sheet, they were not slowed down in anyway by the Oilers checking unit and if not for Khabibulin, the outcome would have been much different.
The visitors opened the scoring at the 5:32 mark, when defenceman Karl Alzner's blast beat the Oiler netminder
from just inside the blueline.
Washington had the home side pinned in their end for the first ten minutes and the young Oilers appeared to be in way over their heads. To their credit, they were able to settle the game down and work themselves back into it before the period was over. They tied it up with under two minutes to play in the opening period, when Hall finished a beautiful tic-tac-toe on the power play. The play began in the corner when Hall fed the puck to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and in a blink of an eye, the puck moved around the perimeter and was back on Hall's blade, who made not mistake finishing the play.
Edmonton carried the play for much of the second period and were rewarded with five power plays in the middle frame, including a lengthy two man advantage. While they were unable to covert on the two man advantage, late in the second, they did take the lead just before the thirteen minute mark when Jordan Eberle pounced on a rebound and beat a startled Tomas Vokoun, again on the man advantage. It was the second consecutive game that the talented forward has scored, after being held goal-less in his first seven games.
The rest was up to Khabibulin and the veteran did not disappoint. The Caps swarmed Edmonton in the first five minutes of the third and the netminder made four unreal stops to keep the Oilers up one. The onslaught continued throughout the period but outside of a bomb off the stick of Dennis Wideman, that hit the post, nothing got past the NHL leader in GAA (0.97) and SV% (.964).
The majority of fans in this city have wanted Nikolai Khabibulin out of town so bad that the thought of him playing another game in Edmonton made many ill. These are the same fans that broke into a "KHABBY, KHABBY, KHABBY, KHABBY" standing ovation at the end of last nights game. Nuff said.
The penalty kill is now ranked third in the league(92.3%). The kill was driven heavily by the performance of their goaltender on the night but they did block 18 shots with Ladislav Smid leading the way with four and penalty killer Lennart Petrell added three more.
While the top line looked over matched at times, as the Caps goal was a direct result of Hall not getting the puck out of the Oilers end, they were they only line to generate anything 5-on-5. Plus they scored both goals on the PP and all three are now sitting at a point per game average for the season.
The work ethic of this club can not be questioned. They make their mistakes out there but as a group, they are willing to do anything to ensure they earn the two points at nights end.
I give coach Tom Renney credit,, for cutting the ice time of some of "his core" players that simply did not have it. Ryan Jones looked completely lost out there because he simply could not keep up to the speed of the game and Jones played just under twelve minutes on the night.
It's hard for a coach to change things when a team is winning but Renney needs to look at changing things upfront. The supposed second and third lines are creating nothing offensively and it's no surprise. The Magnus Paajarvi, Eric Belanger and Sam Gagner line has been awful and the Horcoff line will not contribute much consistently while it is structured how it is. Be it re-jigging the bottom nine forwards or taking someone out to get Linus Omark back in, they have to do something.
The struggles upfront have now made their the second unit power play pretty much useless. The trio of Smyth, Belanger and Gagner has been putrid and screams for the return of Omark to lineup, if for no other reason. They are wasting one of the best power play guys in the league, Smyth, because they have no one to play him with.
Theo Peckham returned to the lineup and was as poor, if not worse, then he was with his initial benching.. He made a god awful outlet pass in the second period, that was right on the tape of one Alex Ovechkin. Luckily, his goaltender bailed him out and no damage was done. With Whitney out, the call needs to be made for Jeff Petry and in a hurry. As good as the group has been, it won't last much longer, if reinforcements are not brought in to support the current roster.