Appearing shell-shocked over the trade of their heart and soul leader, the Oilers were beaten handily 3-0 by the Phoenix Coyotes in an NHL game that began with the cacophonous jersey retirement of former Oiler great Mark Messier.
Playing in vintage orange and blue jerseys from the team’s 1980 Stanley Cup years, the Oilers mustered just two shots in the first period compared with 10 for the Coyotes. They were booed off the ice in the first, second and third periods as some angry fans chanted “Smytty! Smytty! Smytty!” “We didn’t have it tonight. It was quite clear early in the hockey game,” said Oiler head coach Craig MacTavish in an Oilers dressing room that was dead empty 10 minutes after the final buzzer.
Smyth’s stall was empty, the nameplate removed.
“I’m going to wipe the slate clean tomorrow and we’re going to come in and get back to work.” Oiler captain Jason Smith said they earned every catcall.
“Absolutely we deserved it,” Smith said. “We didn’t come with the work ethic that we need.”
The Coyotes went through their own roster makeover at the NHL trade deadline Tuesday. They traded away key scorers Oleg Saprykin and Yanic Perreault along with tough guy and former Oiler Georges Laraque.
Coyote forward Jeremy Roenick said Smyth was a cornerstone of the franchise and could see the loss in the eyes of his opponents.
“You could tell their team was a little flat with everything that was going on with Mess. That took a little wind out of their sails. And then when Ryan got traded, that’s a gut-wrencher. We definitely saw that their eyes were wide open by that.”
Coyote coach Wayne Gretzky, who experienced his own heart-breaking trade as an Oiler, added: “It was an emotional day and they have emotional fans. I’m sure this wasn’t an easy game to play.” Phoenix opened the scoring with just over six minutes left in the first period when the Oilers failed to clear the zone while short-handed.
Coyote defenceman Derek Morris dished the puck to Owen Nolan in the slot, who fired a shot past Oiler goalie Dwayne Roloson for his 15th goal of the year.
In a second period that featured three fights, Phoenix extended the lead at 4:34, again on the power play. A Morris point shot deflected to Yanick Lehoux at the side of the net. He fired the puck past a sprawling Roloson for his first goal of the year.
Steven Reinprecht made it 3-0 minutes later when he turned Oiler defencemen Jan Hejda inside out on Roloson’s doorstep before backhanding the puck through the goalie’s pads. The boos rained down. By the middle of the third, a quarter of the fans had gone home.
Coyotes goalie Curtis Joseph stopped 26 shots for his 15th win.
The Oilers lost their composure late in the second when captain Jason Smith, who had already fought Nick Boynton, began trading punches with players on the Coyotes’ bench.
The 16,839 fans, who rattled the girders with cheers as Messier skated around with the Stanley Cup in the pre-game ceremony, seemed to be spent as well. They made little noise when highlight Messier goals were shown on the JumboTron during breaks in the action.
They were stunned earlier Tuesday when the Oilers swapped Smyth to New York for two prospects and a draft pick. The 31-year-old mullet-haired winger from Banff, Alta., had been an Oiler since he was drafted sixth overall by the team in 1994.
He led the team with 31 goals and 22 assists in 53 games this season despite missing a stretch of games with a broken thumb.
Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe, who pulled the trigger on the trade, did not come out for the Messier ceremony and MacTavish said he made the introduction speech in his place.
“We kind of anticipated what the sentiment would be,” said MacTavish. “We didn’t want that emotion to factor in what was a great celebration for a great Oiler.”
Edmonton’s playoff hopes are fading fast. They were nine points back of a post-season spot heading into play Tuesday night.
NOTES: The Oilers proved to be the cure for what ailed the Coyotes’ power play, which was ranked 29th heading into play Tuesday . . . Oiler defenceman Ladislav Smid was a scratch after taking a knee in the thigh in a game against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday . . . Oiler defenceman Dan Syvret made his first NHL appearance of the year after being called up from the American Hockey League, but was in the penalty box for Phoenix’s first goal.