New Jersey Devils’ Andy Greene (6) checks Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall to the ice during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Newark, N.J.
Photograph by: Bill Kostroun, AP
NEWARK, N.J. — A Jon Merrill slap shot at 2:34 of overtime robbed the Oilers of a third victory on their four-game road trip Friday night, but they dispersed for the Olympic break feeling good about themselves, just the same.
Merrill, a University of Michigan product in his rookie season, made his first NHL goal a memorable one, finishing off a three-way passing play with Michael Ryder and Adam Henrique as the Devils edged the Oilers 2-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd of 16,592 at the Prudential Center.
“We just got caught a little on an indecision on a four-on-four defensive-zone coverage there,” said Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins. “It opened up a play for them.
“Sure, we would have liked to get that one in overtime, or let’s see what goes on in the shootout, but I’m fairly happy with the point.”
With victories over the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, and the overtime loss, the Oilers collected five of a possible eight points on the trip. Their only loss was an emphatic 4-0 beat-down by the Boston Bruins at the front end of the trip.
They finished with some style, matching the Devils chance-for-chance in a well-played game, especially considering it was the second of back-to-back games for the Oilers, whose record moves to 20-33-7.
Andrei Loktionov, converting a three-way passing play, opened the scoring at 11:01 of the first period for the Devils, while Taylor Hall, converting a two-on-one with Nail Yakupov, replied 29 seconds later.
It was the 20th goal of the season for Hall, who played on a line with Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the second straight game, with happy results.
“I thought we had a lot of chances tonight,” said Hall, who had five shots to lead all Oilers in that category. “Maybe (we had) a few more against than we would like.
“But, as far as getting the puck in their end and getting two-on-ones and three-on-two chances, we seem to be doing a good job of that.
“It’s fun playing with Yak. When we’re on, it’s chances. It would have been nice to bury one more.”
Along with the Oilers top line of No. 1 overall draft picks, their offensive attack increasingly seems to include defencemen selectively jumping into the rush, or pinching deep into the opposing zone to support the Oilers attacks.
Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference and Jeff Petry just missed on a cluster of gilt-edged chances like that.
In the first period alone, Schultz failed to convert on a setup from Ales Hemsky from the side of the crease early on, and Ference was robbed by Schneider on a similar play at 10:05 on a setup by Hall.
Petry also jumped into the slot late in the period, but a pass from Sam Gagner bounced over his stick and the defenceman fanned on his shot.
In the second period, there was Schultz again, jumping up on a two-on-one with Yakupov in the final 20 seconds. In the end, Schultz opted not to pass, but his shot hit Devils goalie Cory Schneider square in the chest for an easy save.
“It’s just when you see the opportunity,” Schultz said of the spate of point-blank chances from defenceman venturing deep into the offensive zone. “I had a few opportunities tonight I probably should have scored on.
“I could have had a hat trick out there. Nuge (Nugent-Hopkins) was making some great passes. You’ve just got to find your opportunity and there were a couple tonight.”
It was Ilya Bryzgalov’s turn to play, given Eakins’ even-steven goalie rotation and he was rock-solid, stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced.
The Oilers felt Henrique got away with a blatant hold on Oilers defenceman Martin Marincin on the play that sprung Merrill for his game-winner, but Bryzgalov did his best to be diplomatic about that.
“I don’t want to judge the referees, but definitely from my standpoint, he was holding the stick and he was holding the stick of (Marincin) for a long time. Maybe the referee doesn’t see that moment, I can’t tell you.”
It was the third straight one-goal game for the Oilers, who seem far more comfortable playing in tight games than they were earlier this season.
Eakins, as a coach would be, was cautiously optimistic about the Oilers groping for an identity.
“We hope so,” Eakins said. “It’s sometimes hard to get a measure because I find teams like (New Jersey) and the Rangers, they play differently than those teams in our conference, teams like St. Louis and Anaheim, San Jose.
“I think we’re more than capable of competing against the teams of this size and this nature. We still have to work harder and get better to play against those beasts over in our conference.”
NOTES: The Oilers won the only other meeting between the two teams this season, earning a 5-4 shootout on Oct. 7 in Edmonton ... That game was Eakins’ first victory as an NHL head coach ... The Devils have four players headed for the Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia. Patrik Elias, Jagr and Zidlicky all will play for the Czech Republic. Jagr was part of his country’s gold-medal team in 1998, when Dominik Hasek stoned Canada in that infamous shootout in the semifinal. Damian Brunner will play for Switzerland in his Olympic debut ... The Oilers three Olympians are Slovak defenceman Martin Marincin, right winger Ales Hemsky of the Czech Republic and defenceman Anton Belov, who will play for Russia, despite being a healthy scratch the last four games for the Oilers.
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