GAME DAY: Oilers drop shootout decision to Canucks
CANUCKS 3 - OILERS 2 (SO)Taylor Hall's power-play goal late in the third period brought the Oilers even with the Canucks once more Tuesday night, sending the game to overtime (and a shootout) for the second consecutive evening. It didn't go as well this time around, as Cody Hodgson's skills tally sealed a 3-2 Canucks win at Rogers Arena.
AT THE OILERS' HOTELVancouver, BC - Following a spirited, emotional and hard-fought 2-1 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks last night, the Oilers boarded the team charter and air-bussed their way to sea level where an interdivisional matchup with the Vancouver Canucks awaits tonight at Rogers Arena.
The win one night ago snapped a three-game losing skid for an Oilers club that still sits in 14th spot in the NHL's Western Conference. Having now secured 40 points on the season, the Oilers are only three points back of the 13th-place Anaheim Ducks and are eager to inch closer with another win tonight.
The opponent doesn't get any easier; not even close, when you consider the discrepancy in points and relative position to one another. The Canucks, who haven't played since Saturday's 4-3 triumph over the same Sharks, have amassed a 5-2-2 record in January, propelling Vancouver to the West's second spot.
Sporting a 9-3-0 record against Northwest Division competition (countering the Oilers' 5-8-3 mark), the orange and blue know they're in tough tonight.
DUBNYK BACK IN
Although the Oilers did come out with a one-goal victory last night, it wouldn't have happened without brilliant goaltending. Devan Dubnyk stopped 44 shots through 65 minutes, and another three in the shootout when he thwarted Michal Handzus, Dan Boyle and Logan Couture's attempts.
Now having improved to 7-11-0 on the season, along with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, Head Coach Tom Renney will be going back to the hot hand as the Oilers look to procure consecutive victories for the first time since Nov. 22 and 25 (wins over Nashville and Minnesota).
It's only the third time all season that Dubnyk has started consecutive games (Dec. 10-15 and Jan. 15-17) and the first in which he's had the opportunity to tend the pipes in both contests of a back-to-back situation.
"Sometimes 25 feels old, but it's really not," Dubnyk said with a laugh, noting the back-to-back set. "I'll be okay. It wasn't too long ago that I was doing three-in-threes (in the AHL), and all these guys do it when we have back-to-backs. It's something you've got to deal with; whether the legs are tired at the start or whatever, that happens sometimes and you've got to battle through it."
"Obviously, and he should, hope to be a No. 1 goaltender in this league," Head Coach Tom Renney added. "You have to be able to put back-to-back games together. In order for a young goaltender to develop into what he wants to be, and what this organizations expects from him in the long run, he's going to have to be able to do that."
It's also worth noting that Nikolai Khabibulin has lost eight in a row, with his last win coming on Dec. 22 vs. Minnesota (4-1).
The sophomore netminder was understandably thrilled with last night's win; so, too, were his teammates, as the Oilers were able to get back in the win column amid a disappointing January stretch.
"We needed a win," No. 40 explained. "It's been tough, but everybody wants it. It wouldn't have been quite as nice last night without the two points. Everyone's excited about last night and we get a chance to do it again against a pretty good hockey team tonight.
"That's not surprising," he added, looking at the Canucks' hot mid-season run. "[Vancouver is] a great hockey team. They move the puck well; they shoot lots and run a lot of plays and high tips. We're going to have our hands full tonight, but we seem to step up to challenges when we're playing tough teams."
Tonight also marks the return of Ryan Whitney. The Oilers' No. 1 rearguard has been sidelined since Dec. 26, missing an additional 14 games due his surgically repaired ankle that's hampered the 28-year-old since his acquisition and throughout his eight-year NHL career.
While Whitney argued that he could play at "80-percent in [in the NHL]," over the weekend, it's become a sign of hardened commitment and desperation on the blueliner's part as his body struggles to heal.
He insists that he needs to give it one last chance this season.
"I'm feeling okay," he said with some clear disappointment. "It's obviously not where I'd hoped it would be, but at some point you've got to give it a go. I'm excited about getting back to playing, no matter what.
"The ankle's weak, so it falls in and causes a little pain. 'You've got to wait until you're 100-percent,' people keep telling me. Well, I don't really know if it'll ever be 100-percent, so you've got to deal with what you have. I can still be an NHL defenceman at 80-percent or whatever I am, so that's a positive.
"Just happy to be playing again with my teammates."
Whitney has been limited to 17 games this season, posting three assists in his abbreviated 2011-12 campaign. While the casual observer may not notice the hindrances in the rearguard's mobility, the 28-year-old is prohibited, somewhat, and is unable to make some plays that he's used to.
"There are some things that I go to do that don't necessarily happen as well as I'd like anymore, like some explosiveness in my right foot," he said. "But you can work around it and be better positionally. I've tried to work on [those things] in watching the games and even in the couple days I've skated here."
Renney agreed and commented further on Whitney's struggle and ultimate reinvention.
"I'm not sure his 100-percent will ever exist again, in terms of what he was three-four years ago," he said. "There's maybe a new normal for him. And I think he's coming to grips with that. I think that's the biggest issue of all: understand that he might have to reinvent himself as a player, and that's not easy to do; especially when he came into Edmonton as he did, as he was lights-out to start here."
Ben Eager, who was a scratch in last night's 2-1 win, will sit out again tonight. No. 55 was thought to be healthy, but Renney revealed that he's dealing with a lingering back issue.
Under the circumstances in which Whitney's return comes, it's possible the Oilers will dress seven defencemen. Lennart Petrell took the optional morning skate, along with the team's other scratches (and Khabibulin). Either Darcy Hordichuk will be slotted back in, or Taylor Chorney wil remain on D.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick