The Edmonton Oilers haven’t had the best of Decembers, winning only twice in the month going into their game against the slumping Minnesota Wild. Every team wants to go into the Christmas break on a winning note, and a date with the Wild (losers of 5 straight) was just what the Oilers needed. Jordan Eberle, seemingly inspired by the World Junior tournament being played close-by, scored twice to lead his team past Minnesota. Eberle now sits 5 goals back of the goal scoring lead in the entire NHL (Phil Kessel leads all players with 20 goals). The Oilers special teams were clicking well in this game, scoring a powerplay goal, a shorthanded goal and having a perfect penalty kill.
Eberle opened the scoring late in the first period, notching his 14th of the season on the powerplay. A couple of minutes later, Ryan Smyth scored his 13th from Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. Early in the second period, Edmonton would go up 3-0 on a shorthanded marker from Lennart Petrell. Eberle would get his second of the night a minute later from Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney to stake the Oil to a 4-0 lead. Midway through the period, Dany Heatley would break Nikolai Khabibulin’s shut-out to cut the Oilers lead to 4-1, but that would be all the struggling Wild could muster in their 6th straight loss. The veteran goaltender stopped 30 of 31 shots for his 11th win of the season. Last year, Khabibulin won just 10 games in 47 starts. His stats have improved dramatically in his efforts to back-stop the young Oilers into a playoff position. With 33 points, the Oilers are sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference, 6 points back of the 8th place Dallas Stars.
The Oilers next game is on Monday night against the Vancouver Canucks for the first game in their upcoming 7 game road trip, and then they travel to Minnesota on Thursday night for their 6th and final meeting against the Wild this season. It’s going to be a another tough climb for the Oilers to get back into the playoff picture, but the team has shown some glimpses this season that they might be able to challenge for a spot in the postseason. They know they have their work cut out for them.
“We’ve just got to focus on playing good hockey and keeping the positivity in here,” said Jordan Eberle. “It’s about keeping confident. I think as the season wears on, that even keel is one thing you have to maintain. You have to stay positive so that when things are tough like they have been, you don’t jump ship and just throw everything out the window.” – Globe and Mail.
But for now, it’s time to celebrate. And it’s always easier to enjoy the holidays coming off a big win.