ST. LOUIS – Forty-year-old netminder Nikolai Khabibulin was razor-sharp with a 43-save performance and the forward line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle combined for eight points as the Oilers blanked the St. Louis Blues 3-0 on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
The Oilers scored all three of their goals in the opening 26 minutes of the game, while their veteran puck-stopper held down the fort at the other end of the ice, paving the way for a much-needed victory. The win bumped the Oilers record up to 12-13-7 and they now sit in 11th place in the Western Conference with 31 points.
"There was a lot of battle from the whole team, and that begins with the goaltender," Oilers Head Coach Ralph Krueger said of Khabibulin's masterful performance between the pipes. "He came to play tonight."
The Oilers were looking for a bounce-back performance after two consecutive regulation losses, and Krueger had high praise for his team's effort.
"This was truly a start to finish line kind of game from a battle level," the bench boss said. "It was our most complete game of the year."
The Oilers start Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes, Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney on defence, and the forward line of Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov up front as they conclude a mini two-game road trip tonight.
Early in the first period Head Coach Ralph Krueger is already juggling his lines from what the team skated with during pre-game warmup. The kid line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle is reunited, while Gagner is with Paajarvi and Ales Hemsky, and Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff and Nail Yakupov are together.
The new combos get the Oilers on the board with 8:11 to go in the opening frame as Hall, Eberle and RNH burst in on a three-on-one, with Hall setting up Eberle for the easy one-timer past a helpless Jake Allen to make it 1-0. It's Eberle's eighth of the season while Hall is now tied with Gagner for the team scoring lead with 28 points.
Vladimir Tarasenko gets the Blues best scoring chance of the game so far with 4:36 remaining in the opening frame, but his hard wrist shot from the high slot is snagged by the glove of Khabibulin, keeping the visitors ahead by one.
The Blues get another golden scoring chance late in the opening frame as Alex Steen sneaks through the Oilers defence and gets in alone on Khabibulin, but the Russian veteran makes another big stop, reading Steen's forehand deke to make the save.
The first period comes to an end with the Oilers leading 1-0 on Eberle's goal, but St. Louis is leading shots 8-4.
Hemsky gets called for holding the stick 25 seconds into the middle frame for the first penalty of the night.
Shortly after the Oilers kill off the Hemsky minor, another big Khabibulin save on David Perron on a breakaway leads directly to the team's second goal of the game. Nugent-Hopkins gets the puck in the slot and leaves a drop pass for Eberle, who snipes a blistering wrist shot top shelf on Allen to make it 2-0 with 16:34 on the clock.
The Oilers reunited kid line continues to dominate, extending the lead to 3-0 just two minutes later as Eberle is denied on a breakaway on his attempt at a hat trick, but Hall is there to bang in the rebound. The line's third goal of the night chases Allen from the game, replaced by Jaroslav Halak.
The Blues' frustration starts to show as the Oilers continue to maintain their three-goal lead. A post-whistle dust-up near the Edmonton net results in Eberle and David Backes each getting two minutes for roughing with 8:38 remaining in the frame.
Khabibulin makes yet another big save, this time denying Backes on a breakaway.
Tensions continued to mount before Mike Brown and Barret Jackman drop the gloves with 3:57 to go in the period. It doesn't end up being much of a scrap, though, as Brown loses his footing and both players fall.
The Oilers will start the third period on the penalty kill for 1:10 as Hemsky takes a tripping penalty in the final minute of the middle frame. Plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistle late in the period, while the Blues finish the frame leading shots 29-9.
Backes (cross-checking) and Ladislav Smid (slashing) take coincidental minors during the opening minute of the third, giving the Blues a brief four-on-three power play with Hemsky still in the box.
Another set of coincidentals puts the teams in a four-on-four situation as Vladimir Sobotka hooks Nail Yakupov, but the Oilers rookie also gets called for diving, with 15:54 on the clock.
The Oilers are doing a much better job generating shots on goal as they're up to 19 with five minutes remaining in regulation, continuing to maintain their three-goal cushion.
Khabibulin faces a mild late-game push as the home side registers an additional three shots in the final minute, but the veteran turns them all aside.
As a result, the Oilers skate away with a 3-0 win over the Blues. Sensational all night, Khabibulin finishes with 43 key saves en route to his 46th career shutout.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
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