GAME DAY: Oilers dropped 6-3 in T-Dot
Three second-period goals vault Leafs ahead for good in Monday night track meet
LEAFS 6 - OILERS 3Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul each scored in the second period, while the Oilers could only respond with one (Jeff Petry), breaking a 2-2 tie and putting the home side up a commanding 5-3 score. With the help of James Reimer and his 27 saves, it was enough to down the Oilers by a 6-3 count Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
Jordan Eberle scored the other Oilers goals, while Kessel added another to seal victory with an empty-net tally.
AT THE MORNING SKATEToronto, ON - Following a three-game homestand in which the Oilers collected wins in each, the orange and blue now embark on a similar set, with the next three coming on the road against teams battling for a post-season berth.
Tonight, Edmonton goes head-to-head with Toronto to kick it all off in the teams' annual encounter at the Air Canada Centre. While the team took an opportunity to rest and relax on a practice-less travel day Sunday, an 11:30am ET morning skate helped loosen to the legs in preparation for tonight's East-West showdown.
In stringing together a 4-0-1 stretch, help continues to come. Tom Gilbert, who's missed 12 games with a knee/ankle injury, returns to the lineup tonight.
"It's been a new experience for me being out this long," said the 29-year-old who, in four full seasons with the Oilers, missed only three games prior to this year's IR appearance. "It's real exciting to come back, especially with the way the team has been playing. There's been some historical games in the last few, guys have been playing a lot better, the team has been playing a lot better, and we're trying to make a push here. It's nice to be a part of that again."
Although Gilbert had been relegated to the press box, he didn't take the view for granted. The Oilers have played well recently, but the rangy rearguard sees room for improvement.
"I still think there are a lot of holes [in our game]," he explained. "Our system play has been alright. There have been great performances by guys in the past three or four games, but playing a team like Toronto, if we continue to have turnovers in our D zone, teams like Toronto are going to take advantage of that. Our team has got to be patient tonight, it's got to be quick puck movement and avoid the turnovers."
Andy Sutton will, in turn, take a seat as a healthy scratch while Gilbert will be paired alongside Cam Barker.
Associate Coach Ralph Krueger agreed with his blueliner's sentiments and added a note on Gilbert's value to the Oilers' in-need defence core.
"Tommy Gilbert is a leader with this group," he said. "He's a very cerebral player who gives us stability. We'll ease him back in and keep him around 15 minutes, not the 27 he was playing when he went out. He's a great man to have on the team and he gives us some more depth."
T. DOT REDUX
The last time these teams met at the Maple Leafs' home rink, the Oilers trotted away with a dominant 5-0 win back on Dec. 2, 2010. Taylor Hall scored a pair that night, while Jordan Eberle chipped in with a strong performance of his own, netting a goal and three points to help the orange and blue shut out the home side.
"Last year was a fun time," said Hall, who's notched seven points in his last four games, looking back on 2010's triumph. "That was where I really started to get comfortable as a player with the Oilers. [There are] a lot of guys that were a factor in that, along with me scoring two goals, we won a big game there. That was a big trip for us and we look at this trip the same way. We need to come out of this trip with some wins and to be playing well to give ourselves some hope (down the stretch)."
Coming to Toronto should help. Just like Montreal, there's an extra buzz when teams clash in a hockey-mad, metropolitan sports mecca. In addition, Sam Gagner spends his summers in Oakville while Hall hangs out in Kingston, mere hours from the Air Canada Centre.
"We have to contain the enthusiasm from the coaches," Krueger laughed. "It's always exciting to come to Toronto for all of us. It's the Centre of the Universe for hockey in many ways. Bringing this energy to the right place and bringing it to the work ethic and the team game that we need, is what we need to do here and use this enthusiasm that Toronto always brings into our group as a building block for a victory.
"Everybody is watching our group come together, and we're playing as a team as good as we did at the beginning of the season," the coach added. "We want to keep this feeling; nothing replaces winning, so we're happy to be on this track right now and we're going to work hard to stay there."
NO. 89'S 11
With another scoresheet steamroll on Saturday vs. Detroit, Sam Gagner continues to ride a hot hand. The 22-year-old scored 2-1-3, helping the Oilers establish an early lead en route to an eventual 5-4 win in the shootout. In addition to his eight-point outing (four goals and four assists) the previous night, Gagner's hand in 11 straight Oilers goals surpassed Wayne Gretzky's team record.
It's been a bit of a whirlwind, but the 5'11", 195-pound winger remains humble.
"It was a good week," he said, noting his announcement of being named the NHL's Star of the Week. "The biggest thing is we were able to play well as a group and that helps individuals exceed a little more. A lot of guys had good weeks. That's really important for us going forward, is that we can string these weeks together and continue to play better and better as the year goes along."
"It doesn't seem like it," laughed Hall when asked about whether or not Gagner is slowing down. "Right now with me and Jordan, it's fun to play on his line."
NEWS & NOTES
Devan Dubnyk who, with a 4-0-1 record since the team's pre-break "metamorphosis," has improved to 10-11-1 on the season. He'll get the call again tonight, looking to advance his 2.92 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
Head Coach Tom Renney, while conversing with Ales Hemsky prior to today's morning skate, was struck in the head by an errant puck. The bench boss required some stitches to the side of his head, but he was smiling as he vacated the ice this morning and should be ready to go for tonight's game.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick