EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers can rest a little easier during the holiday break, but the same can’t be said for the Minnesota Wild.
Jordan Eberle scored a pair of goals as the Oilers snapped a four-game losing skid in impressive fashion, defeating the slumping Wild 4-1 on Thursday.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said it was nice to go into the break on a winning note.
“Every win brings you some kind of relief,” he said. “I didn’t care what the score ended up being, I just wanted to be able to say that we played well. We showed near the end that we can still hit the panic button pretty well and the penalty parade didn’t help us but our penalty killing was stellar, as was Nikolai Khabibulin.”
Khabibulin earned his 11th win in the Edmonton net, surpassing his win total from last season.
Ryan Smyth and Lennart Petrell also scored for the Oilers (15-16-3) who had won just two out of their last 11 games coming into the contest.
“It eases your mind, we can take this momentum forward,” added Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Dany Heatley replied for the Wild (20-11-5) who have now lost six games in a row on the heels of a seven-game winning streak.
“We just weren’t ready at the start and it cost us the game,” said Minnesota forward Kyle Brodziak. “I think we have to take a look in the mirror and make sure we are better from here on out. It hasn’t been good enough. It’s not fun right now.”
The Oilers dodged an early bullet as a Clayton Stoner blast rang off the post behind Khabibulin just over a minute into the game.
Edmonton started the scoring with four minutes remaining in the first period as Eberle put forward a tremendous individual effort on the power play, stopping a clearing attempt, making a toe-drag move to throw off a defender and then sending a wrist shot past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom for his 14th of the season.
Renney said he is continually impressed by the poise of Eberle, who scored his fourth goal in the last three games and leads the Oilers with 36 points.
“It’s important to have that kind of confidence; those are special plays by special players,” he said.
Edmonton made it 2-0 with a minute and a half to play in the first as Smyth attempted a wrap-around shot and got a couple more whacks at it to lodge the puck from between Backstrom’s skate and the post and into the net. It was also Smyth’s 14th of the year, ending an 11-game scoring drought.
The Oilers had a chance to go up by three goals with 12 seconds left in the first when Taylor Hall was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped up on a breakaway attempt by Stoner. Backstrom made a pad save to turn away Hall’s attempt.
Edmonton out-shot Minnesota by a hefty 20-3 margin in the first.
The Oilers went up 3-0 early in the second period as Petrell stripped the puck from Jeff Taffe and picked the top corner with a slapshot for a short-handed goal.
Less than two minutes later, the Oilers went up by four goals as Eberle picked up a loose puck in the slot and beat Backstrom with a backhander.
Eight minutes into the second the Oilers had four goals while the Wild only had four shots.
Khabibulin kept the Wild off the board with a terrific glove save in tight on Pierre-Marc Bouchard with five minutes to play in the middle period.
Minnesota had a chance to get into the game early in the third as Petrell was assessed a checking from behind major for giving Marek Zidlicky a shove as he was heading into the boards.
Petrell, a rookie, said he intended no harm on the play.
“I feel bad for Marek and the way he went into the boards,” he said. “From my point of view he might have caught an edge because I didn’t feel it was much contact.”
The Oilers killed off the lengthy penalty, but just seconds later the Wild ruined Khabibulin’s shutout bid as Heatley rifled a shot into the net for his 10th of the season.
Surprisingly, the final shots were an even 31-31.
Notes: It was the fifth of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals, who will close out their season series on Dec. 29. The Wild won three of the first four, all in shootout sessions…Oilers forward Ales Hemsky missed the game, suffering from the flu. He was replaced on the Oilers’ second line by Sam Gagner. Petrell drew in to take Hemsky’s place in the lineup… The Wild were hopeful they would have captain Mikko Koivu back in time for the game, but he instead missed his fourth game with a leg injury. To fill in for him, the Wild recalled Jeff Taffe…Minnesota has had a string of injuries at forward, also missing Devin Setoguchi (ankle), Casey Wellman (wrist) and Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion symptoms)…With the World Junior Hockey Championships in town following Christmas, the Oilers will head on a daunting seven-game road trip starting Monday, facing the Canucks, Wild, Islanders, Blackhawks, Sabres, Blues and Stars.