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Oilers allow six first-period goals in home opener loss

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton's Nail Yakupov battles with San Jose's Patrick Marleau during first period action between the Oilers & Sharks at Rexall Place on Jan. 22, 2013. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).

EDMONTON - It isn't a stretch to suggest the opening 20 was the worst period the Oilers have played all season. Clearly, it was.

But more to the point, it was statistically the worst period the Oilers have played in many, many seasons. It wasn't quite record-breaking, as a Jan. 17, 1980 contest against the Bruins resulted in, but the six goals they allowed Tuesday was close enough for heartbreak in a 6-3 loss.

Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz each recorded their first-career NHL goals, while Taylor Hall picked up the home side's other marker.

An emotional pre-game ceremony celebrating the home opener to the Oilers' 34th National Hockey League season mattered little to the visitors; Dan Boyle and Logan Couture cashed back-to-back power-play goals while the ice was still wet.

The club clearly didn't heed their rookie head coach's message. Much of the discussion at the morning skate was about remaining disciplined in what was expected to be a thrilling atmosphere at Rexall Place. It turned into a nightmare instead.

"Pain is going to make us a better team. And that's a lot of pain," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "In that period as a whole, we lost our discipline not only with the penalties, but our whole defensive structure disappeared.

"It was a complete meltdown through every single player. From Devan (Dubnyk) all the way to our last forward and defenceman. As coaches we take responsibility for that, for not pushing the buttons we needed to. We've gotten to know our group better through this, and we're going to work on improving when we feel static about a past win (vs. Vancouver). That gave us too much of a loose feeling, and we need to stay tight as a group. We're still working on that defensive structure and without tightness, you don't have it."

"Obviously we were positive from our win in Vancouver, but there might have been a sense of complacency," added Hall. "Then we run into a team that has a lot of veterans on it and they know how to win."

At least one Oiler lived up to the hype early on. With Sharks defenceman Brad Stuart serving an interference minor and on the first shot of his NHL career, Nail Yakupov corralled a cross-crease pass and promptly deposited a missile past Antti Niemi.

As far as first-career NHL goals go, it was dandy that rivals the beauty and impossibility of Jordan Eberle's back in October of 2010.

"I was happy when I scored," said Yakupov, visibly disappointed with the loss. "The fans are amazing here. Thanks for coming, fans. We'll be better [on Thursday] and we'll be working."

Rexall Place might never have been louder. But it was a short-lived thrill, as Patrick Marleau put the Sharks up by three with tallies 1:05 apart -- one at evens, and another on the man-advantage as Corey Potter was sent off for roughing.

The Sharks have now scored on four of their 10 power-play opportunities this season.

"Just looking at the chances against, there was an unbelievable lack of positioning," Krueger said. "There wasn't any hunger to get [the puck] back.

"It's one of the periods you have to go through. We used the intermission to regroup and the players tried to give this game a chance. At least they fought to try and make it closer."

"We've got to worry about taking our guy and making sure we don't lose him in the slot and the scoring areas," added Justin Schultz. "That's what happened and they capitalized on all their chances."

Eight-and-a-half minutes in, the Oilers trailed by only one. After 20, it was a 6-1 game. Couture notched another and Marc-Edward Vlasic got in on the action late in the period. After allowing all six goals on 17 shots, Devan Dubnyk was replaced by Oklahoma City call-up Yann Danis between the pipes.

Danis pitched a 14-save shutout in 40 minutes played.

Consecutive penalties to Vlasic and Boyle gave the Oilers an extended 5-on-3 power-play late in the second. Twenty-six seconds in, Justin Schultz wired a slap shot up and over Niemi's left shoulder to record his first-career NHL goal.

Edmonton outshot San Jose by a 17-9 margin in the second period.

Hall helped spark a third-period surge, making it a 6-3 game with a wrist shot that whizzed past Niemi's glove at 3:34, but it wasn't enough.

"San Jose pulled it back," Krueger said, "and we're able to keep the damage to a minimum. We need a quick regroup. We're in the early phase of a shortened season, so we're going to have to use this (lesson) well."

The Oilers are back in action on Thursday night when the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings visit Rexall Place.

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick

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