There were portions of Saturday night’s game between Edmonton and the Colorado Avalanche where the Oilers completely controlled the play, in particular the line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. They had the Avs pinned in their own zone for large stretches. But Colorado’s transition game, and more precisely the play of Matt Duchene, burned the Oilers on several occasions. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, and the game looked like it was quickly slipping out of the Oilers hands.
Cody McLeod scored a little over a minute into the game, setting the tone for what would be a tough outing for Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz got caught pinching, and left Sam Gagner to try and defend Matt Duchene, but it was a futile effort as the recently hot Duchene was able to score his team’s second goal. The Oilers were guilty of a few defensive miscues in this game, and the Avs were able to capitalize.
Jamie McGinn also scored in the first frame, as Dubnyk allowed three goals on 12 shots. He wouldn’t come out for the second period, and veteran Nikolai Khabibulin would take over. It seemed as though the goalie change wouldn’t make much a difference however. Ales Hemsky scored a powerplay goal late in the first to put the Oilers on the board, but John Mitchell got one past Khabibulin early in the second to restore the Avs three-goal lead.
The Oilers however, simply refused to quit in this game. The home crowd at Rexall Place had little to cheer about, that is until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally scored his first goal of the year to cut Colorado’s lead in half. A minute later, Hemsky scored a highlight reel goal, bringing the Oilers within one and the fans into a frenzy. The comeback was on.
Midway through the third period, the Oilers powerplay went to work and Jordan Eberle’s forth of the season knotted the game at four. With about two minutes to go in the game, Magnus Paajarvi (who wasn’t even originally supposed to play in the game) drove the net and scored his second of the season. The goal would prove to be the game winner, and it was a result of some hard work by recent healthy scratch Ryan Smyth. Smyth had a strong game overall, with two assists on the night.
Eberle scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal the 6-4 victory. The Oilers showed a lot of guts coming back in this game. They, like the Avalanche, have suffered a lot of injuries in this young season, but their key players came up big when it mattered. Khabibulin was strong in relief, making 16 saves for the win. Last week, the Oilers only mustered 14 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets and still came away victorious. It was quite the opposite in this game, as they fired 56 shots at Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov, which was a franchise record.
The Oilers still have a high mountain to climb, as they currently sit in 11th place in the Western Conference. They have struggled with consistency, and have very little margin for error as they fight to get into a playoff spot. It won’t be easy, but this team is showing some flashes of brilliance If they can tighten up defensively, and get solid goaltending on nightly basis, they have a shot. But those are some big ifs. They sure can be fun to watch, though.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.