The Oilers road trip continues Tuesday in Tampa Bay with a 5:30 pm MT showdown against the Lightning. You can watch it on Sportsnet West or listen on 630 CHED and the Oilers Radio Network.
SUNRISE, FL — The Edmonton Oilers played two strong periods and one not-so-strong one on Monday against the Florida Panthers. Fortunately, the two good outweighed the bad and they emerged victorious 4-2.
Taylor Hall led the way for Edmonton with two goals and an assist, while Teddy Purcell picked up a goal and two assists, helping secure a second consecutive victory and a positive start to the three-game road trip. Cam Talbot had another strong night in net, making 31 saves.
The Oil jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, gave up two goals to the Panthers in the final frame and secured the win with an empty-netter.
“It’s nice to get those goals early, get some offence back for our team that had been missing for a little while,” Hall said. “It wasn’t an absolutely perfect night for our team or our line, but we managed to get some goals and get a lead early, which we hadn’t been doing lately.”
Before the goals started, there were some fisticuffs to kick off the festivities.
Matt Hendricks was playing his first game since serving a three-game suspension for his hit on Panthers young star d-man Aaron Ekblad in the teams’ previous meeting just eight days ago. Hendricks acknowledged pre-game he may be a target for some retribution from the Florida squad in his return, and just 4:16 into the game he dropped the gloves with blueliner Erik Gudbranson.
Chalk it up to the honour code of the game, Hendricks said after the final whistle.
“They thought they had to send a message,” he said. “With ’the code’ I had to stand up for what I did. We got it over with quick, moved on and both teams went to play hockey after that.”
Coach McLellan added it was appropriate Gudbranson was the other combatant, since he had a hard hit on Hall during the game at Rexall Place as well.
“It was one of those nights where you didn’t know what was really going to go on,” he said. “It was the honour system tonight… Gudbranson had a pretty solid hit on Hall, Hendricks had a solid hit which was ruled illegal on Ekblad. Those two went at it early, a real honourable fight and after that everybody played hockey. I think the days of the gong-show are long gone.”
The fight only served as motivation for the Oilers rather than the home side, though, as they scored a pair of goals to take a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
First, Purcell intercepted a Panthers pass at the Edmonton blueline and sprung a streaking Hall on a breakaway. The team’s leading scorer and all-star made no mistake, roofing a shot on Al Montoya to make it 1-0 at the 5:50 mark. Hall had been on a mini goal drought dating back to Jan. 2 vs. Arizona, but he lit the lamp with his 17th of the season to open the scoring.
The Oil struck again at 17:52, capitalizing on another Panthers turnover. This time, Benoit Pouliot stole a pass at the Florida blueline and fed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the left wing. The Nuge then zipped a perfect pass to Jordan Eberle, who one-timed a close-range shot up high on Montoya for his 12th of the season, good enough for second on the team.
Hall struck again in the middle frame shortly after the Oilers killed off their third straight penalty. Just 35 seconds after Andrej Sekera hopped out of the sin bin, Hall took a pass from Purcell, cut to the high slot and scorched a wrist shot through traffic past Montoya to put the visitors up by three at 4:19.
It was Hall’s 18th goal and 44th point, while Leon Draisaitl got his 35th point in just his 37th game with the second assist. Purcell picked up his second point of the game, bumping him up to 27 on the season.
“He did things right the whole night,” Coach McLellan said of Hall’s performance. “He had very good moments in the game where he responded to things that were going well and but also things that weren’t going well. That’s the sign of a good leader.”
It wasn’t all positives for the Oilers in the middle frame, however, as RNH took a shot off the glove early in the period and did not return to the game. Coach McLellan said post-game the centreman suffered a hand injury and will be sidelined “long term”.
The Panthers finally got one past Talbot 2:45 into the final frame as Reilly Smith skated down the right wing and fired a wrist shot past the defender Sekera and just under the bar on Talbot’s glove side. Less than three minutes later, Shawn Thornton found Quinton Howden on the doorstep for a tap-in to make it 3-2.
There were some tense moments late in the third as the Panthers pushed for the equalizer, but Hall set up Purcell for an empty-netter to seal the victory. Hall got his 45th point while Purcell got his 28th.
“That was a great win for us,” Hendricks said. “We bent but we didn’t break. Great job by Cam keeping us in there late. They had some good opportunities… It’s a nice victory to start a back-to-back.”
The second half of Edmonton’s back-to-back slate in the Sunshine State goes Tuesday night in Tampa as they take on the Lightning at 5:30pm MT.
The teams squared off at Rexall Place on Friday, Jan. 8, with the Oilers generating a 2-0 lead before the Lightning stormed back with three unanswered goals in the third period to win 3-2. The blown lead was extra frustrating for the Oilers as all three Tampa goals hit one of their players before finding the back of the net.