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RECAP: Predators 3, Oilers 2

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB – James Neal recorded a hat-trick as the Nashville Predators handed the Oilers a 3-2 loss at Rexall Place. The Oilers outshot the Predators 30-25 and opened the scoring, but couldn’t battle back after conceding a lead in the third.

“To win these games, tied game going into the third period, we need to find a way to get the puck to the net and bang one home and maybe an empty-net (goal) and win the game that way,” said Oilers winger Jordan Eberle. “You like the effort and stuff, but moral victories aren’t that great.”

The Oilers were searching for a better effort than their 4-0 loss to Arizona Saturday night and got just that, in the eyes of their coach.

“It was much better than it was last game,” said Todd McLellan. “We played a smarter game, we didn’t give up outnumbered rushes and we were better structurally. There’s a lot of improvements, as far as that goes, but I don’t like looking at it that way because we were so bad in that last one that that’s not the norm. That’s not where we should be. We’re back to playing decent hockey tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t come away with the win but we did some good things.”

Edmonton scored on their first shot of the game to take a 1-0 lead at 6:48 of the opening frame. Rookie forward Connor McDavid set up Eberle in the slot and the winger potted his 21st goal of the season. McDavid’s assist ensures he stays a better-than-point-per-game player with 36 in 35 this season.

Neal beat Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit one-on-one at 8:04 of the first. Anthony Bitetto had a nice pass to set up Neal behind the defence and Ryan Johansen recorded the second assist.

A lack of penalty calls from the officials riled up the crowd at points in the first, and the level of feistiness among players on the ice increased as well. Oilers winger Matt Hendricks was on the receiving end of a hit into the glass behind the Predators net from Bitetto. Oilers winger Zack Kassian returned the physicality, tracking down Nashville’s Craig Smith and delivering a big check between the benches.

Then, with 3:31 left in the first, Nail Yakupov made contact with Viktor Arvidsson along the benches and the two began some extra curricular pushing and shoving. Nashville’s Mike Fisher jumped into the fray as did a few other players, including Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers forward and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki were each given roughing penalties for the altercation.

Edmonton was quick to strike in the second period, just 31 ticks in. Iiro Pakarinen one-timed a pass from Leon Draisaitl past Pekka Rinne to give the home team a lead once again. Taylor Hall recorded the second assist.

Pakarinen was elevated up the lineup tonight, starting the game on a line with Hall and Draisaitl.

“I thought Pak had a good night,” said McLellan. “I expected that from him and he’s excited about getting the chance there. I thought he played a simple, hard game. He complemented the other two.”

The celebrations were short-lived for the Oilers as Neal responded just 20 seconds later to tie the game at 2-2. Shea Weber and Calle Jarnkrok had the helpers.

“It’s tough,” Kassian said of the quick counter by Nashville. “It sucks the energy right out of the building, especially at home. We want to use the home crowd to our advantage. When those things happen, it sucks the crowd right out. It’s something we can’t allow to happen.”

With 6:37 left in the second, Kassian had a breakaway chance to push the Oil ahead again. The big forward put a nice move on Rinne, but the goalie managed to slide post-to-post and dive on the puck.

Again, more pushing and shoving flared up the following shift with Hall being sent to the sin bin for roughing. Hall protested the penalty, as did the Rexall Place crowd as it was announced. Fortunately for the Oilers supporters, Edmonton managed to kill off the shorthanded minutes.

Not only did the Oilers kill off the Hall penalty, but they controlled the puck for parts of that time, spearheaded by the speedy pair of McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins.

Shots were tied 19-19 after the second with the game knotted at two. When the teams took the ice for the third, the Predators jumped ahead.

Neal recorded his hat-trick at 4:17 of the third, firing a top-shelf shot glove side of Brossoit for the 3-2 Predators lead.

“I thought I had everything covered, but got casual and didn’t track the puck,” said Brossoit.

The Oilers kept pushing and had a few chances to bury the equalizer late. With 1:37 left in the game, Oilers winger Patrick Maroon had a chance on a rush but his shot was gloved by Rinne.

With 12 seconds to go, Andrej Sekera drew a penalty in the corner to give Edmonton a man advantage. Unfortunately, 12 seconds wasn’t enough time for the Oil to net the necessary game-tying tally.

In keeping with the chippy theme of the night, the game ended with some fireworks as Nugent-Hopkins was on the receiving end of a big hit at the buzzer and a scrum ensued. Pushback, effort and response aside, the Predators were the team to escape with the one-goal victory.

“Losing this one is not a good feeling,” said Kassian. “We’ve got a big opponent coming in a day and we need to be ready to work.”

The Oilers have dropped eight of their last nine games at home. They host the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. MT. The Blues dropped a 7-4 decision in Calgary tonight.
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