Ryan Jones a bright spot for the Edmonton Oilers in disappointing shootout loss
Gritty winger shows offensive upside in scoring goal as he continues to work his way back from eye injury
EDMONTON - On the mourning after the fright before, after the game of finger-pointing by fans — who and what was at fault as the Edmonton Oilers blew another two-goal lead — we did see some offensive life out of winger Ryan Jones, in one of the few bright spots.
He scored his first of the season on a nice wraparound, was in some San Jose players’ grills, particularly that of Andrew Desjardins’, and generally was doing what we’ve come to expect from Jones before he took the puck in the eye on New Year’s Eve, which made him a spectator until Feb. 23, and now has him wearing a visor.
Jones played only 11 minutes (no penalty-kill or power-play time) but he was very effective on his 20 five-on-five shifts on a line with Jordan Eberle and centre Ryan Smyth, subbing for the other Ryan, Nugent-Hopkins, who was at home with the flu.
The Oilers absolutely need Jones’s brand of work, in the corners and especially around the net. They could also use about seven or eight goals in the final 19 games, but maybe that’s a stretch, even for a guy with a reputation for getting hot in the Raffi Torres mould.
Is Jones, who is on the bubble as an unrestricted free-agent July 1, back? He scored 35 goals the previous two years, 27 even-strength.
“That goal reassures me that that’s the way I have to play,” he said.
“Those are the plays where you jam at the goalie’s pads so hard, you’re in his face, and you don’t know what’s happening until the red goes on and you see everybody celebrating. Those plays aren’t pretty, but they’re extremely effective. Smytty came close earlier in the game (wraparound), too. It went off the goalie’s pad. We can do more of that as a team. It’s not glamorous, but we need to do more of that.”
This wasn’t an empty-netter off a sweet feed from, say, Eberle. “Not a pretty back-door tap,” he said.
It was a night for former Miami of Ohio U players. Jones scored as did fellow alumni Tommy Wingels, the San Jose Sharks forward who tied it 3-3 in the third, and Dan Boyle, the veteran Sharks defenceman who scored the shootout winner for the Sharks.
Jones appeared to give the Oilers all the cushion they needed, up 3-1 four minutes into the third, with his sudden wrap-and-stuff under Antti Niemi’s pad, but it didn’t hold up.
The Oilers can’t be gassing two-goal leads in a playoff race, in the third period, at home — throwing away four points and letting the Wings and Sharks, who should have had none, get two points each.
But Jones, who caught the flu in Denver at the tail end of the nine-game trek across North America and sat out the Detroit game March 15, looks like he’s back. He didn’t play his first game until a shootout win over Phoenix here a month ago.
“He’s skating a lot better, getting in on the forecheck, creating some pressure. He’s a character player, searching for confidence. He looks close to what we’ve seen from him,” said coach Ralph Krueger. “Getting the goal was a monkey off his back (first in his 11 games). He’s probably had the most unassisted goals over the last two seasons, and it was nice to see him get like that, coming out from behind the net and jamming it in.”
Jones is averaging a shade under 15 minutes a game, about his norm. He was getting stronger then got sick in Denver, although he played.
“In Colorado, I honestly I felt like my lungs were the size of a ping-pong ball,” he said. “Now, I feel I can carry my energy throughout the game and play the physical game I need to play to be effective. Am I 100 per cent to where I was last year? Honestly, no, but I’m close.
“I’ve tried to be more physical, to be a jerk, and get in guy’s faces when otherwise I wouldn’t. That keeps me in the game. The goals for me? They come and they go, unfortunately. I’ve always been a streaky scorer.”
Jones says his eyesight hasn’t been compromised by the surgery to repair a slight tear in his retina, which he suffered when a deflected puck hit him in a workout with some locked-out NHL players in Minnesota.
He came together with the feisty Desjardins early in the game after a collision. Desjardins looked like he wanted to drop his gloves. Jones isn’t ready for that, not after his eye surgery.
“The whistle went, he came in and gave me a jab. Pissed me off a bit, which is what I needed,” Jones said. “I’ll probably stay away from fighting. I have to feel more comfortable, more confident, if I take a shot to it so I won’t reinjure it (eye).”
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Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Jones celebrates his third period goal against the San Jose Sharkson March 20, 2013.It was the first goal of the season for jones, who's been playing the last month after coming back from an eye injury and subsequent surgery.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal