Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) of the Edmonton Oilers, can’t beat Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz preached patience in a letter to fans Monday, but even when his 29th-place hockey club makes the opposing goalie stand on his head, they still get an ‘L’ at the end of the night.
A close loss — yes, we’re celebrating those now after a string of 5-1 and 5-2 setbacks — but still an ‘L’ on the ledger, which makes it 31 in regulation time in 52 games so far this season.
Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo showed emphatically Tuesday why he should be Canada’s starting goalie at the Sochi Olympics with an outstanding piece of work, only giving up Jordan Eberle 17th goal of the season on a wild third-period scramble with five Vancouver players parked in front of the blue paint.
Luongo made two superb stops earlier in the night on Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and also survived three clangs off the goalpost in a 2-1 victory, his third straight against the Oilers. He beat them 6-2 and 4-0 in Vancouver in October and mid-December.
The Canucks, playing without captain Henrik Sedin for the first time in almost 10 years, got goals by rookie centre Kellan Lain in the first period and Zack Kassian in the second, then climbed on Luongo’s back the rest of the way to hand the Oilers their fifth consecutive loss.
“Luongo made some huge saves ... we could have two or three on the power play alone. That’s the reason why he’s going to be in the Olympics,” said Eberle, who was robbed on a sliding Luongo pad stack and also rang one off the iron in the third as the Canucks were running on fumes at the end.
“We fought hard and our PK was tremendous. We killed a lot of penalties (four),” added Eberle.
“I mean, it’s tough to hang your head at this one, but it’s still a loss.”
Kassian was vilified for busting Sam Gagner’s jaw in pre-season with a wild stick swing here, which netted him an eight-game suspension. But while Luke Gazdic wanted his pound of flesh as the game wore on, Kassian wisely said no thanks. He wasn’t engaging the 240-pound winger, who did his damage with his bullet under the crossbar to beat Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens in the second period, looking a whole lot more like Alex Ovechkin with the shot than a banger.
Oilers captain Andrew Ference bristled when asked if Gazdic shouldn’t have just gone over and punched Kassian in the face after the Canucks winger also mocked Gagner for wearing a face-mask when the teams were in Vancouver on Dec. 13.
“What do you want? Somebody to jump him?” asked Ference.
“You are the same ones who’ll rip on a guy if they do something out of context. I’m not even going there.”
“Gaz (Gazdic) went over to him a couple of times and he didn’t want to fight. What are you supposed to do?”
“You can’t just drop your gloves and start punching him.”
“What are you going to say then after the game? What a dirty player?”
So there was no retribution for Gagner swallowing Kassian’s lumber, but that was only a subplot. The main storylines were Luongo and Henrik Sedin. Sedin’s 679-game ironman streak (sixth-longest in NHL history) ended because of a rib injury, with Ryan Kesler moving into his spot between Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows. The Canucks wanted to prove a point, winning without him and got two points, mostly because of Luongo who made 28 saves, at least half a dozen of them 10-bellers.
“Incredible streak considering the game today, how fast and how hard it is and the rigours Vancouver has with their travel,” said Oilers’ coach Dallas Eakins, who roomed briefly with Henrik at Canucks camp in 2003.
As usual, the Oilers — who’ve now won two of their last 21 games in their first contest back off a road trip of at least two games — didn’t play a full 60 minutes. They were chasing the game from the five-minute mark as Lain, who only played two seconds in his NHL debut last Saturday before being kicked out following the line-brawl off the opening faceoff against the Calgary Flames, banged in a rebound of Dale Weise’s shot for his first NHL goal. Kassian’s goal was a kick in the gut and, while they had Canucks on the ropes in the last 10 minutes, the Oilers still lost.
“Great fight at the end, good pressure and good chances ... there was some good tonight, but we’re missing that extra little bit, things left on the table at certain parts of the game. It was better, but not at a level where we’re grabbing a game,” said Ference.
“We’re just hanging around, trading some chances, having opportunities on the special teams, but never in firm control until the last 10 or 12 minutes, where you could see how we can play when we crank it up with speed and pressure. We know where the bar’s set and that’s what you have to strive for ... start of a game, middle of a game ... we saw the extra gear (at the end), but that has to be there, not just when we’re down a goal.”
ON THE BENCH: Ryan Jones dropped the mitts with the much-tougher Kevin Bieksa in the first period, the fourth fight of the season for the Oilers winger who had never had more than two before — three in the last four games ... Oilers defenceman Philip Larsen, out since Dec. 21 with either the flu or a virus, is practising with the team ... Corey Potter got his first game after missing 11 with a groin injury. He replaced Corey Potter on the Oilers blue-line.
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