EDMONTON, AB- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle each posted three-point nights in a 5-1 rout of the Predators at Rexall Place, giving the Edmonton Oilers their third win against Nashville, sweeping the season series.
“I didn’t really like our first (period),” Eberle said. “I thought we had a lot better in us. I know we were up a goal but I think we had a ton more to give. I think in the second, special teams kicked in. Our PK was great, our power play got one and in the third, our power play kind of ended it for us. Special teams was big for us tonight.”
After the Oilers first power play of the game failed to yield a shot and with their second yielding nearly the same results, Head Coach Dallas Eakins elected to replace his more skilled forwards on the man advantage with his energy players. Luke Gazdic, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks finished off the second power play of the first period, generating a few shots on net and drawing some applause from the fans.
“It was a message and I think the message was taken in loud and clear and it’s interesting though,” Eakins said. “It was Gordon, Hendricks and Gaz who go out there with Justin (Schultz) and (Martin) Marincin and they end up getting three good looks at their net I think. The power play doesn’t have to be that complicated. It need to be simple. But then I thought our power play settled in. That’s what happens tonight, our special teams are good, our goalie is good and you win games.”
Those players continued to earn some praise from their fans as Gordon and Hendricks showed off their penalty killing prowess. Shortly following their own power play, Mark Fraser took a roughing penalty at 11:46 of the opening frame. Hendricks blocked a heavy point shot and the Oilers cleared the puck, eventually killing Nashville’s man advantage and keeping the game scoreless.
Hendricks wouldn’t return in the third period due to an injury suffered by that blocked shot. He tried to finish the game but had to leave.
“When you block that shot, it always hurts,” Eakins said. “I don’t care how much padding you have. A great sacrifice by him and he hung in there as long as he could and then he just got to a point where that leg wasn’t moving very well anymore so he had to call it a night.”
Viktor Fasth made a big save, with under five minutes remaining in the first, as a rebound stuck in the crease and the Oilers goalie held his ground as Patric Hornqvist crashed the crease, ready to pounce. Rookie defencman Oscar Klefbom was there as well to help defend the crease and keep the game tied at zero.
Hendricks nearly scored twice on his former team, once shorthanded and once following the penalty’s expiration. Hendricks made a spinorama move on a partial, shorthanded breakaway. Moments later, a shot by the former Predators player skipped past Pekka Rinne and deflected off of the goaltender, flying wide of the net.
Sam Gagner put the Oilers on the board first with 34.7 seconds remaining in the opening frame. Martin Marincin fired the puck from the point and Gagner scooped the rebound and put in the backhand for the 1-0 lead. David Perron earned the second assist on the goal at 19:25.
After a slow start to the first period, the Oilers took over the shot advantage, 12-9 heading into the locker room after the first 20 minutes.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ended his 15-game goal scoring drought at 8:18 of the second period as the Oilers took a 2-0 lead, connecting on the power play. Jordan Eberle fed Nugent-Hopkins a cross-ice pass, across the slot, and the Oilers forward blasted it in short side. Coming into the game, Nugent-Hopkins had not scored a goal since January 26, against the very same Nashville Predators. The slump busting goal gave the Oilers the two-goal lead and Philip Larsen added the second assist.
“I’ve definitely been in a little bit of a slump lately so it’s good to get the monkey off the back a little bit and tonight I thought as a team, we played really solid and as a line, I thought we were clicking tonight,” Nugent-Hopkins said.
Nugent-Hopkins has scored in all three of the Oilers games against the Predators this season.
With 5:12 remaining in the second period, Taylor Hall roofed a shot, tucking it under the crossbar in the top corner, and celebrated as he though he had scored. The game continued but the play was later reviewed during stoppage and Hall was proved correct. Hall’s goal was his 23rd of the season and it gave the Oilers the 3-0 lead. Mark Fraser and Oscar Klefbom were credited with the assists.
The Predators drew within two goals after Hornqvist attempted a wraparound but it was Gabriel Bourque who put it in past Fasth. Shea Weber recorded the second assist on the goal, at 18:39 of the middle frame.
Anton Lander backhanded a no-look pass from the slot out to Eberle and the Oilers winger backhanded a shot on net. The puck bounced off of Rinne, over the goalie and in, giving Edmonton a 4-1 lead at 8:38 of the third period. The goal came just as a Nashville penalty expired.
“I think, as a line, we just kind of clicked tonight and as a team we played some really good hockey tonight,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We know that they’re a defensive-minded team and they don’t give you much. I thought we did a great job of staying patient and waiting for our opportunities.”
Eberle piled it on with his second goal in less than two minutes, at 10:01. Eberle walked in on the left wing and slid the puck between the goalie’s pads and over the line. It was Eberle’s fourth goal in three games this season against the Predators. The goal gave Edmonton the commanding 5-1 lead and chased Rinne out of the Nashville net.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Rinne said when asked why Edmonton has Nashville’s number. “It has to be something with the preparation mentally. I don’t know but, at the same time, you can’t look at the team records. You have to respect the skill they have on the ice and the talent they have. They seem to get it done against us. There’s no excuses, we’re better than that as a team and as individuals and myself too. It’s very disappointing and these are the games you absolutely want to win but you have to tip your hat to (the Oilers). They played well and they played hard and we didn’t.”
Nugent-Hopkins picked up an assist on the goal to give him his own three-point night.