TORONTO – A large gathering of Edmonton Oilers fans made the Air Canada Centre feel like home. It was just what the team needed to end a four-game road losing streak.
Dwayne Roloson stopped 39 shots and Kyle Brodziak scored two goals on Saturday as the Oilers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1.
The visitors were cheered loudly in just their second visit to Toronto since the lockout. It served as a little payback for all the noise fans of the Maple Leafs have been known to make at Rexall Place.
“We had tons of support,” said Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff. “It’s nice to see. It seems like every time they come to Edmonton they have more fans.”
The victory couldn’t have come at a much better time.
Not only are the Oilers sitting right on the playoff bubble in the ultra-tight Western Conference, but they were also coming off a disheartening loss in Ottawa. Coach Craig MacTavish was much happier with this performance.
“(The loss in Ottawa) was just one of those games – a bad effort,” he said. “It was an improvement tonight for sure.”
Ales Hemsky and Fernando Pisani also scored for the Oilers (32-27-6).
Alexei Ponikarovsky replied for Toronto (26-27-13), which failed to record a point for the first time in nine games.
It was a tough night on the Maple Leafs blue-line as both Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren were lost to lower-body injuries in the first period. That meant a lot of extra shifts for the remaining four defencemen – all of whom logged more than 25 minutes.
“It was tough,” said Jeff Finger.
With both players expected to be out for a little while, the Leafs will need to bring a couple players up from the American Hockey League before Monday night’s game in Ottawa.
The Oilers got better news on defenceman Ladislav Smid. He played just one shift after an early collision with Nikolai Kulemin but MacTavish said that Smid looked good after the game and shouldn’t miss more time.
All of the injuries helped add to a strange night.
A clear sign of the unusual atmosphere came early when a boisterous group of Edmonton fans started chanting “Let’s Go Oilers!”
The scoring didn’t start until the second period, when Toronto outshot its opponents 17-5 in the frame and got outscored 3-1.
“The chances we gave up were prime scoring chances,” said Leafs forward Matt Stajan.
Ponikarovsky got the Leafs on the board at 1:08 after collecting his own rebound and faking Roloson out of position on a power play. It was basically the only mistake the Edmonton goalie made all evening.
“He’s really on top of his game,” said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios.
Toronto’s lead lasted just 21 seconds. Hemsky tied it 1-1 after taking a nice breakaway pass from Horcoff and beating Martin Gerber with a low shot.
Gerber was making his first home start for the Leafs since being plucked off waivers and didn’t look nearly as sharp as he did during a winning debut in Washington.
Brodziak gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead at 8:34 by chipping the puck past Ian White and shooting it between Gerber’s legs on a breakaway. Pisani extended that advantage just over two minutes later when he beat the Leafs goalie high to the blocker side.
“The puck is going to go through you sometimes,” said Gerber. “That’s just the way it is when you’re a goaltender.”
The Oilers carried that 3-1 lead into the third period and played a solid final 20 minutes to finish off the victory.
That was an especially welcome feeling after the recent struggles away from Rexall Place. The night ended similar to how it started – with Oilers fans cheering an empty net goal by Brodziak.
Edmonton wraps up its road trip with a game in Montreal on Tuesday night and it’s reasonable to expect that Roloson will be given his 22nd straight start. No one would have guessed he’d get that kind of run when the team started the season with three goaltenders.
The 39-year-old seems to like all the work. He had no idea that the Maple Leafs had 40 shots against him Saturday until his teammates were crowding around him to celebrate the victory.
“I don’t look up their until after the game,” said Roloson. “It’s the least of my worries.”
Notes: White had a career high 30 minutes 59 seconds of ice time … Fans had to get used to some new numbers – Jeff Hamilton (51), Ben Ondrus (25) and Gerber (29) were all in the Leafs lineup … Local boys Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner appeared in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre for the first time … Doug Armstrong, Canada’s GM at the upcoming IIHF World Championship, was in attendance on Canada Night … Announced attendance was 19,364.