Well how about that. The Edmonton Oilers finally have their first winning streak since last March, and it came at the hands of a team that had beaten them in 10 of their previous 11 meetings, and their previous seven at home: The Phoenix Coyotes.
Last night’s game was a rare opportunity for the Oilers’ much-maligned defense to show they could step up to the challenge. Devan Dubnyk was superb in net, stopping 27 of 28 shots, and the defense played a lot of tough, gritty minutes against a rough and tumble Phoenix team that was itching to start a winning streak of their own. Despite continuing to start Corey Potter as the sixth defenseman instead of Mark Fistric, the Oilers managed to keep the likes of Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Antoine Vermette scoreless, and Radim Vrbata only managed one assist on Phoenix’s goal late in the third which ultimately forced overtime.
Unheralded second-year forward Lennart Petrell not only scored early in the first to nearly give Edmonton all the offense they would need last night, but he also pitched in throughout the game in a variety of ways. Not known for his blazing speed, Petrell gave defenders problems on multiple occasions as he zipped around the ice like he thought he was Nail Yakupov.
Petrell even had a couple other great chances to score and were it not for the impressive work of Chad Johnson in net for Phoenix, he could have had his first NHL trick. For a team loaded with superstar young talent it was nice to have an unexpected source of offense step in while the Baby Oilers were largely shut down (3 points between Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and Yakupov).
Dubnyk stood on his head in net and kept the Oilers in the lead for nearly the entire game. The Oilers’ brass has to be loving what they are seeing from him. Outside of that abysmal, six-goal first period by the San Jose Sharks last week, Dubnyk has been brilliant in net, and nearly had his fifth career shutout last night before Phoenix rallied late.
And Yakupov. What else can you say about this kid? He scored another game-winner, in overtime, by batting a puck out of the air into the back of the net. Are we sure he isn’t a baseball player moonlighting as a hockey player? Yakupov’s hand-eye coordination is something else, and while he has taken a few lumps on the ice as he has adjusted to the NHL game, his performances are improving.
Yakupov is starting to demonstrate a flair for the dramatic, but it was unexpected players like Petrell, Dubnyk and the Oilers’ defense that really stole the show last night. If the Oilers can keep growing in these areas as the season progresses, they may yet have hope of making the playoffs this season.