Stranger things have happened in the NHL. But Saturday’s game at Rexall Place between the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche was strange indeed.
First of all, the Oilers outshot the Avs 56-29 to set a new franchise record for shots on goal in a single game. The previous record was 55 shots and was set against the Minnesota North Stars on March 21, 1986. The new record is a significant feat when you take into consideration the dominating Oilers teams of the 80s.
Many people have been quick to suggest that this game was a turning point in the season for the Oilers.But despite outshooting and outplaying the Avs, the Oilers found themselves behind on the scoreboard early in the first period and had to come back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to eventually win 6-4.
Only 1:22 into the first period, Cody McLeod put the Avs on the board first by collecting a rebound in front of Devan Dubnyk and shoveling the puck into the open side of the Oilers net. Later on, Matt Duchene sped into the Oilers zone, raced past Sam Ganger and fooled Dubnyk by faking a deke and sliding the puck through Dubnyk’s five-hole. Seconds later, Jamie McGinn streaked into the Oilers zone, received a perfect pass from Duchene and rifled a pin-point shot over Dubnyk’s right shoulder to put the Avs up 3-0 late in the first period.
However, much like this article, it was better late than never for the Oilers. The Oilers had many chances in the first period, but were unable to get anything by Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov, until Ales Hemsky corralled a rebound in front of the net and roofed a shot passed the sprawling netminder with only three seconds remaining in the opening period.
Nikolai Khabibulin replaced Dubnyk to start the second period, but the goaltending change didn’t matter at first when Avs forward John Mitchell was lucky enough to slide an easy goal passed Khabibulin for a 4-1 Avs lead early in the second.
Nevertheless, the Oilers didn’t give up and pushed even harder as the game progressed. With four minutes remaining in the second period, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally scored his first goal of the season after he received a pass from Taylor Hall and one-timed a shot over the right pad of Varlamov. Nugent-Hopkins hadn’t scored in 24 games; a scoring drought that dated back to March 16 of last year.
Under a minute later, Hemsky scored an amazing dangling goal that could very well go down as the nicest goal of the season. After collecting a pass in the slot from Ryan Smyth, Hemsky walked around defenseman Shane O’Brien, did the same to Varlamov and slid the puck into the open net.
The Oilers continued to dominate in the third, out chancing the Avs 8-0 halfway through the period and maintaining a massive lead in shots. Jordan Eberle ended his nine-game goalless streak and completed the Oilers comeback on the powerplay when he jumped on a loose puck at the side of the net and wristed the puck home to tie the game 4-4.
Colorado attempted to push back after the Eberle goal, but Khabibulin kept the score tied with some brilliant point-blank saves. The Oilers penalty kill was also fantastic on Saturday. The Avs couldn’t to get any decent shots or chances through the Oilers penalty killers who did a excellent job getting their sticks in the passing lanes, blocking shots, and chasing down loose pucks like a pack of hungry rabid wolves.
The Oilers played with a certain incessant intensity on Saturday. It was the type of hockey that Oilers fans have been expecting from their team all year. And when Smyth rushed down the wing and swiped a pass across to Magnus Paajarvi for the go-ahead goal with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, there was a sense that the Oilers had finally come together as a team and the best was yet to come.
After Eberle sealed the game with an empty-net goal, there was no doubt the Oilers had made a big step in the right direction. However, many people have jumped the gun to suggest that this game was a turning point for the Oilers. It could be. But the Oilers still have to prove they can play that way every night. And it would also help to not give up three goals in the first period.
It was a game that produced several storylines. Maybe the most significant story was Smyth’s return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous game. He was certainly an impact player on Saturday, creating several chances and assisting on two goals.
During an interview with CBC after the game, Smyth stated, “everyday is an opportunity”. Smyth was obviously influenced by being scratched; he turned the negative situation into positive one and played his best game of the season, helping his team win and possibly turning the season in the right direction.
The Oilers are set to face the Los Angeles Kings, tonight at Rexall Place.