GAME DAY: Oilers' season ends with 3-0 loss to Canucks
CANUCKS 3 - OILERS 0Vancouver scored late in the second and added a pair in the third, snapping a deadlock that Devan Dubnyk did his best to maintain. The Canucks' trio on the scoreboard and 42-17 shot advantage vaulted the home side to a 3-0 win Saturday night, earning the Canucks their second straight Presidents' Trophy and ending the Oilers' 2011-12 season with a shutout loss at Rogers Arena.
AT THE MORNING SKATEVancouver, BC - For one last time in the 2011-12 season, Head Coach Tom Renney assembled his club at centre ice, addressed them with a quick pep talk and slammed his stick down to end the morning skate.
His message was simple. Tonight's game is not the end; it's the beginning. The 2012-13 season may not actually begin for another six months, but the bench boss wants Saturday's division battle to be the starter.
Led by Jordan Eberle and his near point-per-game pace as he sets his sights (sort of) on the Lady Byng Trophy, the Oilers are up for it.
"That goes without saying," Eberle said. "This leads into next year and where we want to be, so as professionals and as competitive people, we're going out with the intention of winning. I think we're getting better at limiting our turnovers and not letting teams capitalize as much. It goes to show that we're getting better and we're becoming a better team when we start to play like that."
With 34 goals and 76 points in 77 games this year, No. 14 is one off a point-per-game pace. He'll need a multi-point night to record it and doing so will be tough, given the Canucks' penchant to match up and shut down other teams' top scorers.
It's a delicate balance, too, considering Eberle has had such a great season amid another disappointing one, team-wise. Linemate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in the same boat, as he's right in the middle of a Calder Trophy race and could put another stamp on an impressive rookie resume tonight.
"It's tough," he said. "I'm a strong believer that as long as your team has success, you're going to have individual success. Most of the games where I've put up points, it's always been against teams that we've beat. I've found that if I play well and score, I'm going to help give my team a chance to win. It's tough when you have personal success and your team's not doing well, but you've got to focus on the little things.
"I've been getting used to it all year," Eberle added about the tough assignments and matchups. "Over the last 10 games or so, we've been playing against the other teams' top lines and we've done pretty well, so that's a good sign."
Another good sign that will surely carry into next season.
"For all of us, we're trying to build toward something better and to be in that (post-season) picture down the stretch," said 37-year-old Andy Sutton, who's an 11-game playoff veteran and a body that will be back in orange and blue next season to help compete for it. "It's such a great feeling and I want more than anything for our guys to feel it. It makes the games a lot of fun and it's somewhere we want to get to, so it starts with ending on a good note tonight."
In 51 games this season, Sutton has scored three goals and 10 points, along with nasty edge mirrored in 78 penalty minutes. Promoted to a much larger role since Ladislav Smid, Corey Potter (and at the time, Jeff Petry) went down, he's also in a three-way tie with Eberle and Sam Gagner for the Oilers' plus-minus lead with a +5 rating.
The monstrous and intimidating 6'6", 245-pound rearguard knows it will be challenged vs. Vancouver. Even though Daniel Sedin has missed the Canucks' past eight games with an upper body issue, Henrik hasn't slowed. While he hasn't scored a goal since Feb. 19 against the Oilers at Rexall Place, ironically enough, he's potted 10 assists in his brother's absence.
No matter what, the Canucks' all-encompassing push is a lethal one that requires attention.
"Henrik has done so well and their team has so much depth, so we need to have a balanced defence against an attack like that," Sutton said. "It's not like they're putting in some kind of hack in his position, either -- they've got great players to step in, so it's going to be the same types of threats and we've got to play the same hard-nosed defence.
"We've played these guys well for the most part (this season)," he added, noting that the Oilers have lost all but one in the season series, but the scores have been close. "That won't change. It's our last game and they're trying to ramp up to get their post-season ready to go. They might have a lot to play for tonight, so it's a great chance for us to upset them and to go out on a strong note."
With 109 points on the season, the Canucks are currently tied with the New York Rangers for the league's top spot overall. Vancouver badly wants to end its season on a high note, too, which would include capturing their second straight Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular season squad.
"We want to make sure that we get in their way of that," Head Coach Tom Renney said. "We've got to make sure that they get the message that we're here to compete; we're not here as spectators. I believe we'll have to play the bench and play it hard, manage the puck really well and don't give Vancouver the feeling of being able to do what they want, at will, because we've turned it over to them."
The Oilers started the season with a nearly unstoppable home record, but struggled to produce wins on the road. In recent weeks, it's been the opposite. An 8-2-2 road record in the club's last 12 is proof of that.
"Our special teams continue to do well, our penalty kill has been good," Renney said. "I think we've also been relatively healthy, which helps in our depth and with our ability to match up or, if nothing else, disguise what we might have for our opponent on the road.
"And our goaltending has been consistent. That's all helped, but we have to make sure we continue it tonight."
Devan Dubnyk will get the start in goal, looking to improve on his 20-19-3 record, 2.66 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. In other lineup news, Ben Eager will also draw back in, replacing Lennart Petrell on the fourth line.
"We have to sit down and do some soul searching here and understand what we need to do better and how best to attack that," Renney said of Eager's (and others') seasons, and why they've been healthy scratches at certain points.
"From a player's perspective, as they should, they take responsibility for their own season and own performance. But we don't have to evaluate that tonight. We need to bring our 'A' game and understand that this is a good way to leave the season behind us by putting in the required effort."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick