Edmonton - November 27, 2011 - The Edmonton Oilers finished up their four game road trip, just like they started it, with a loss to a struggling team. Difference being, the Oilers blew a 2-1 third period lead to the Colorado Avalanche and ended up taking in on the chin 5-2. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk gave up three goals in the third period, on shots from the blueline, two of which he should have had. To make matters worse, the team lost the services of winger Taylor Hall for the foreseeable future. The talented youngster suffered an apparent shoulder injury, after Avs defenceman, Ryan Wilson, took Hall out with a crushing body check early in the first period.
In what was a very lack luster affair, Edmonton handed their their division rivals two points, that they frankly had no business getting. It was clear the Oilers had little left in the tank, after Friday afternoon's big victory in Minnesota but they were the better team after forty and were deserving of their 2-1 advantage. That all changed in third, when the wheels came off and Dubnyk suddenly was unable to make a stop.
The Oilers did manage to open the scoring, this time from the unlikeliest of sources. Defenceman Ladislav Smid took a beautiful feed from Sam Gagner and blasted his first goal in almost two years. Gagner managed to pull Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov outside of his net, with a quick move and after ducking in behind the Colorado goal, he quickly fed the fast charging Smid, who had a yawning cage to deposit the puck. Just like that, Edmonton was up by one but things would soon take a turn for the worse.
Shortly after Smid's goal, Taylor Hall was chasing the puck deep into the Avs zone, when Wilson caught him in a vulnerable position and sent the Oilers winger flying into the boards. It wasn't a dirty hit by any stretch but the Avs D man made certain, he didn't let up on the 2010 first overall selection. Hall immediately picked himself up off the ice but you could see his left arm hanging motionless by his side. To make maters worse, Colorado gained possession and moved the puck up ice, getting an odd man rush into the Edmonton zone. Dubnyk made the first save with a nifty poke-check on forward Chuck Kobasew but while he was swimming on the ice, doing his best Bill Ranford impression, Jay McClement knocked in the rebound, to even the score.
Hall would return to the game after missing only one shift but he would leave for good before the period was out. As Edmonton were buzzing in the Avalanche zone, Hall was given a quick cross check to his left arm by Kyle Quincey and that was it...his night was over.
With # 4 out for the rest of the game, Head Coach Tom Renney decided to fill his spot with a trio of players. He rotated Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones on that line and Lander was by far and away the best of the bunch. Edmonton did manage to regain their lead early in the second period, when Jones went to the net and tapped in the Eric Bleanger rebound past the Avs Russian keeper. The score remained that way, until Edmonton did their best to just hand the Avalanche two points.
The Oilers were given an early power play in the third but created very little. On the flipside, as time was running out on the Oiler power play, centre Eric Belanger had his shot from the point blocked and Chuck Kobasew corralled the puck, broke in on Dubnyk but was held up by Ryan Whitney from getting a clear chance on goal. With Whitney still in the box, Jeff Petry took a slashing minor and just like that, the home side had a two man advantage. Colorado didn't connect on the five-on-three but did tie it up, before the Petry minor had expired. Shane O'Brien was credited with his first off the season on a blast from the point, that deflected off centre Anton Lander and past the Oilers netminder.
Less then two minutes later, the Avalanche took their first lead of the game when defenceman Stephan Elliot's point shot, somehow eluded Dubnyk. While he did have a partial screen from Ladislav Smid to contend with, that is a shot that must be stopped...especially at that stage of the game. As if the go ahead goal wasn't bad enough, Dubnyk then allowed a shot, from Jan Hejda, to somehow squeeze threw him and suddenly the visitors were staring at a two goal deficit, with less then four minutes to go.
It was great to see Smid finally get his goal. The last time he bulged the twine was back on December 5th, 2009, so Mr. Smid was long over due.
Anton Lander wound up playing over fifteen minutes on the night and played one of his best games of the season. Every time the young Swede hit the ice, he seemed to have a purpose. Unfortunately for Edmonton, it looks as though he will not be allowed to move up from playing regular 4th line duty, unless it is on the wing.
For the first time this season the Oilers got scoring from their third line and everything seemed to revolve around Gagner. Sam was the catalyst for the line. He created a ton of scoring chances for his teammates and looked more like the Sam Gagner of old. With the injury to Hall, one would have to think that the majority of those minutes will be going to either Gagner or Magnus Paajarvi. Now lets see what he can do with them.
Obviously the injury to Taylor Hall will effect the Oilers but it will not be determined until Sunday, at the earliest, how severe the injury is. If it's long term, the club either gives a couple of youngsters some time in Hall's spot or you go and acquire help from outside the organization
Why Eric Belanger is still on the power play, is something I simply can't figure out. To make it even more confusing, you would figure that either Smyth or Hemsky would take Hall's spot on the number one PP unit but instead, they turn to Jones????? Does this coaching staff think that it is just a coincidence that the Oilers power play is much better then last season? If you want your special teams to be successful, you need guys who will work their tails off on the penalty kill and guys with skill on the man advantage. It seems so obvious and yet these guys refuse to recognize the problem.
This is not the first time that Devan Dubnyk has struggled when the club needed a strong performance from the young netminder and you can see that he has lost some confidence in his game. The last two goals that the Avs scored were god awful and as it stands now, I would be stunned if anyone other then Nikoal Khabibulin starts the majority of the upcoming games. Perhaps Devan can continue to start in back to back situations but until we see a misstep from Khabby, the crease should belong to the veteran.
Last night was the perfect opportunity to give Magnus Paajarvi a shot with Hemsky and Horcoff but the staff didn't seem to want to go that route. Much like playing Belanger on the power play, not having Magnus in a role where he could possibly succeed seems rather perplexing. With Hall going down, the spot was there but the staff decided to rotate guys in and out for the night, and not surprisingly, the Horcoff line was very ineffective.
I have grown tired of saying the same things about Theo Peckham on an almost daily basis but last night was a new low. I applaud him for wanting to stick up for his teammates when they get crushed but for god's sake, can he not pick his spots? When you watch the replay of Colorado's first goal, from behind the Oilers net, you can see Peckham at the top of the screen, near the Avs bench, trying to start something. While in the foreground, you see Teubert trying to get back into the play to help his goaltender but ultimately he's too late. Sound familiar? I am seriously starting to believe that Theo's Hockey IQ in non existent.