ANAHEIM, CA - Ryan Kesler spent the better part of the last decade being a thorn in the Edmonton Oilers side as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. On Wednesday in Anaheim, he continued that reputation with his new team, the Ducks.
Kesler scored the eventual game-winning goal in the middle frame as the Ducks hung on for a 2-1 win over the Oilers, despite a third-period push from the visiting squad on the second half of a back-to-back. Unfortunately for the Oil, they fell short for the second straight night, losing to the San Jose Sharks and Ducks on the mini two-game road trip.
Viktor Fasth had a strong performance between the pipes against his former team, stopping 32 of 34 Ducks shots, including several key saves in the latter stages of the third period as the Oilers attempted to tie the game. On the flip side, Edmonton generated 22 shots on net, 21 of them denied by Frederik Andersen.
"I think we played a pretty good road game," Fasth said. "Freddy was good in net on the other end, but I still think we could have had a little bit more traffic in front of him and make it harder for him… We have to look forward, and I think there are a lot of positives from this game we can take into the next one."
The Ducks dominated the opening period, outshooting the Oilers 15-7 and opening the scoring as Matt Beleskey wired home his 14th of the season on the power play 8:59 into the stanza. The power forward is now tied with injured teammate Corey Perry for the Anaheim goal-scoring lead.
Similar to Joe Pavelski's second goal the previous night in San Jose, Beleskey made it 1-0 Ducks on a tic-tac-toe passing play, as Kyle Palmieri took a pass behind the net from Rickard Rakell and found Beleskey in the slot for the one-timer that beat Fasth high on the glove side.
The Oilers generated some sustained pressure and scoring chances early in the middle frame, but the Ducks extended their lead to 2-0 on Kesler's tally with 9:34 on the clock. Hampus Lindholm chipped a long pass from his own zone, Kesler tracked it down at the Oilers blueline, skated in and flicked a wrist shot past Fasth for his 10th of the season.
Edmonton finally got on the board with a hot start to the third period, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his seventh of the season just 53 seconds into the frame. Taylor Hall forced a turnover on a strong forecheck and RNH pounced on the loose puck, rifling a wrist shot past Frederik Anderson. The goal gave the Nuge 18 points on the season, bringing him even with Jordan Eberle for the team lead.
That was as close as the Oilers could get, however, as they continued to battle for the equalizer in the second half of the finale frame but could only muster one goal on the night.
"It's frustrating for everyone," Coach Eakins said "We've got some guys who have proven they can put the puck in the net, and for whatever reason we're just having trouble getting it in there right now. It's something you have to be extremely patient for. It eventually turns, but we need eventually to be now."
Defenceman Brandon Davidson ended up making his NHL debut on Wednesday, with Keith Aulie out of the Oilers lineup as a healthy scratch. The 23-year-old from Taber, AB logged 13:08 TOI (2:28 on the penalty kill), blocked a shot, had a pair of hits and a +1 rating.
"It was exciting to get my first one, for sure," Davidson said. "I'm really happy, but I would have been a little happier if we could have gotten the two points. I was a little nervous to start, but as the game went on they gave me a little more responsibility and I felt more comfortable. The more I played, the better things got."
"He battled hard and played a simple game," Coach Eakins added. "Just what we needed from him."
Next up, the Oilers and Ducks will complete their home-and-home on Friday night at Rexall Place, where Edmonton beat Anaheim in both of their encounters last season. The Oil posted a 4-3 overtime victory on March 28, with David Perron putting up three points, and doubled up the Ducks 4-2 on April 6, thanks to a three-point effort from Hall.