Gagner tries out new move as Edmonton Oilers overcome two-goal deficit to beat Phoenix Coyotes 3-2
Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is scored on by Edmonton Oilers Sam Gagner during the shootout in NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Saturday February 23, 2013.
Photograph by: Jason Franson, Canadian Press
EDMONTON - When the Edmonton Oilers got past the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime a month ago in the desert, an excited Nail Yakupov cheekily waved over his teammates for a group hug while Ryan Whitney was taking a punch in the face from frustrated defenceman Derek Morris.
This time around, there was more a sense of relief than jubilation after the Oilers dug in and fought back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout Saturday at Rexall Place to even their record at 7-7-3, before heading out on a nine-game road trip.
The Oilers, who had stumbled badly, dropping three of four on their homestand, needed a win Saturday in the worst way and Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Nikolai Khabibulin gave it to them in the skills contest. Gagner and Eberle beat Phoenix’s skyscraper goalie Mike Smith with some of the sickest moves you’ll see, and Khabibulin stoned Mikkel Boedker and David Rundblad at the other end, leaving an entire Oilers bench to exhale when it was over.
Eberle (goalmouth flip shot off a Yakupov hustle feed) and Teemu Hartikainen (goalmouth power play tap-in) scored in regulation for the Oilers after Kyle Chipchura (blue-paint scramble) and Matthew Lombardi (power play rebound off a Boedker shot that drilled the post) had given the Coyotes a 2-0 lead halfway through the wide-open affair that had 79 shots over the first 65 minutes before the four shootout attempts.
In the end, skill plus will won out for the Oilers.
Smith, who faced 43 shots, should be a Canadian Olympic team candidate, but Gagner and Eberle beat him cleanly in the shootout.
Gagner’s swashbuckling move was (Pavel) Datsyukian, the kind of sleight of hand the Detroit centre routinely pulls off. He had Smith going east, then west, turning him into a six-foot-four, 230-pound pretzel, before ho-humming a shot into the empty net.
Then Eberle went with his trademark fake and nifty backhand under the crossbar.
“Sam had me leaning the wrong way and I was sitting on the bench,” kidded Oiler Ryan Smyth.
Gagner pulled out a new card from his deck of shootout moves for this one. He’d had a short-handed breakaway on Smith in the first period, but was stuffed as he tried to go through the goalie’s feet.
“I was dead tired and he tried to poke-check me and I was looking five-hole. This was a different scenario,” he said.
“I’ve been using the move in practice a lot and it’s been working and I said to myself, ‘Enough’s enough, I have to try this in a game.’ It was all or nothing. I could easily have lost the puck and it rolled into the corner,” said Gagner, who is now 16-49 lifetime on shootouts — two-for-three this season, scoring against Roberto Luongo and getting stopped by Antti Niemi in San Jose.
“I’ve seen that move of Sam’s multiple times in practice and he’s had it down pat. I’ve seen him go forehand, too ... You get to a shootout and anything can happen. But this was a huge point for us, the standings are so tight,” said Eberle.
Eberle hadn’t taken a shootout in the first two games in Vancouver and San Jose, but he’s 7-21 lifetime.
“I wasn’t very good in Oklahoma City. I think I was one for five on shootouts,” said Eberle, “but I’ve worked hard with (goalie coach) Freddie Chabot. He’s our shootout consultant and he’s helping me a lot (with a book on goalies).”
The Oilers have more guns in their rack for shootouts than most teams, of course.
“Those were two of the best penalty shot goals I’ve seen. Wouldn’t have mattered who was in the other end. Smith’s one of the best goalies in the league, but I really feel good about our penalty shot team,” said Oilers coach Ralph Krueger.
Khabibulin evened his record at 2-2 with the victory. He’s given up seven goals on 123 shots in his three starts, replacing Devan Dubnyk after one period of a 6-4 rally against Colorado Avalanche a week ago here. “I thought Nikolai was unbelievably aggressive in the net. He wanted this win badly,” said Krueger.
While Dubnyk is the acknowledged No. 1, Khabibulin has played in four of the last seven games. Going on the road for nine games in 17 days, it might be closer to a 50-50 split than when Dubnyk was playing every night until Khabibulin’s repaired hip allowed him to play.
“I know you people talk of starters and first-lines as you analyze things for the public, but with us, it’s a day-to-day decision,” Krueger said. “We have a great goaltending team. The feeling with the coaches was the energy and experience we needed for this game was in the hands of Nik. Today was Nik’s day. He answered this bell, and we’ll reasses for Monday in Chicago.”
Eberle’s regulation goal came off a nice bit of hustle by Yakupov on a Gagner dump-in. Hartikainen had a gimme after Smyth’s tip of Justin Schultz’s shot banked right to the Finnish winger for his first goal this season.
The Oilers need more shots than most teams to score, though. Again, 43 shots and only two goals.
“This is definitely frustrating. We had a couple of grade A chances from the slot and we have to put those in ... Yak, Justin Schultz, myself,” Eberle said. “We have to bury those. I’m here to score goals. The thing with us if we get a lead, the other team has to forecheck (not sit back) and you get more chances. If you’re coming from behind all the time, it’s not easy to score.”
“To be down 2-0 was a real test of our mettle,” said Krueger. “To come back in a game of this magnitude and to persevere and go on the road with some extra points, should give us some energy we desperately need.”
“This win eases our mind somewhat going on the road trip,” said Gagner. “But we also know how we’ve responded after wins earlier (they only have one two-game winning streak, beating Colorado and Phoenix at the end of January). We have to find ways to keep our foot on the gas.
“Smith played so well early. I had my breakaway. Belly (Eric Belanger) had one. We tried to get pucks at him in traffic and we were all thinking the same thing: stay patient, stick with it. It’s a template we have to use.”
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