DENVER – The Edmonton Oilers are focused on points, not the top pick. Finishing last in the NHL for the second straight year just doesn’t hold any appeal at all.
“Everyone talks about getting that pick,” forward Sam Gagner said. “We’ve had enough of that.”
Gagner led the surging Oilers on Saturday night with a goal and two assists as they won their third straight with a 5-1 victory over the struggling Colorado Avalanche.
Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff, Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Cogliano also scored for the Oilers, who no longer reside at the bottom of the league standings.
They’ve handed that distinction to Ottawa—at least for the moment.
Their motivation is making sure they don’t slip back into the cellar.
“We got that pick last year in (Taylor Hall) and now we want to show what we’re capable of,” Gagner said. “When you look at it on paper, these games might not seem that important, but it’s really important for us to establish an identity and move forward as a group.”
The Oilers jumped out to a 4-0 lead midway through the second period, chasing Avs goalie Brian Elliott from the game. Cogliano sealed the win with a short-handed goal 29 seconds into the final period.
Devan Dubnyk did his part in net as he turned in another solid showing by stopping 33 shots.
The Oilers did receive a brief scare when Gagner slid hard into the boards early in the final period. He stayed down on the ice for several minutes before skating to the bench. He returned later.
Edmonton has already lost three of its top scorers this week with the trade of Dustin Penner to the Los Angeles Kings, along with injuries to Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and Hall (ankle).
“I took my time getting up because I didn’t know what was hurt,” Gagner explained. “It’s scary, but I’m glad I’m no worse for wear.”
The Avalanche can’t seem to halt their free-fall as they lost for the 15th time in 16 games.
As the losses pile up, so does the frustration.
“It’s horrible. Not a whole lot of positives going on right now,” David Jones said. “We’re trying to dig and work hard. Hopefully that can turn things around. It’s not a positive place right now and it’s not fun when you’re losing the way we are.”
With the outcome long decided, the game turned quite chippy late.
Cody McLeod and Alex Plante mixed it up near the boards, followed by a brief skirmish between David Koci and Steve MacIntyre, their second go-round of the game.
Koci and MacIntyre finished the game in the dressing room after drawing 10-minute misconduct penalties.
The two tough guys had quite a tussle in the second period as each landed several solid punches—one even sending Koci’s mouthpiece flying—before being separated and sent to the penalty box to serve five-minute majors.
“I might as well get my team fired up,” MacIntyre said.
This game marked the season debut for Giroux, who was recalled from Oklahoma City on Saturday morning and quickly caught a plane to the Mile High City. He made sure it was a memorable appearance, tipping in a shot from Linus Omark midway through the second period.
His goal also sent Elliott to the bench.
Elliott allowed four goals on 19 shots in his fourth start since being acquired from Ottawa for Craig Anderson. Peter Budaj stepped in for Elliott, stopping 11 of 12 shots.
The Avalanche got on the board late in the second period when Ryan O’Reilly smacked in a puck from close range. It was his first goal since Jan. 4.
Gagner played a role in both of Edmonton’s power-play goals during the first period. He put the Oilers on the board early when he slid in and knocked the puck past Elliott. He set up another goal by tapping a pass to Ryan Jones after Elliott wandered too far out of the crease.
The injuries keep piling up for the banged-up Avalanche, who lost forward Ryan Stoa for at least two weeks after he had an appendectomy Friday.
When the teams met two weeks ago at Pepsi Center, Avalanche defenceman Ryan O’Byrne left after Hall’s skate sliced O’Byrne’s cheek, a cut so deep it needed 100 stitches to close.
O’Byrne has just started skating with the team again.
“Those injuries are scary,” Avs coach Joe Sacco said at the morning skate. “It was fortunate with Ryan that it wasn’t a few inches lower, where it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Notes: Avs captain Adam Foote moved ahead of boyhood hero Borje Salming for 39th place in games played by an NHL defenceman. It was Foote’s 1,149th game. … Avs D John-Michael Liles tied Foote for most career assists by a defenceman in franchise history. Both have 203. … Edmonton is 3-0-1 against Colorado this season.