EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers are starting to resemble the injury-plagued team of late last season, when they lost 18 of their last 20.
In a game where the Oilers lost their fourth defenceman to injury when Mathieu Roy went down early in the first, Jason Arnott scored the game-winning goal with eight minutes remaining in the third as the Nashville Predators won on the road for the second night in a row, defeating the Oilers 4-1.
Injuries played a large part in last year’s collapse with four defenders among the parade of injuries suffered, and they are starting to pile up again.
Roy went hard into the boards on what looked to be a clean check by Jordin Tootoo just three minutes into the game. Roy, who left a game on a stretcher following a concussion-causing hit in the pre-season against Vancouver, was down for a long stretch and had another stretcher standing by but was able to leave the ice on his own. He did not return and was diagnosed with a shoulder injury.
“Toots hits like a rock,” said Nashville head coach Barry Trotz. “It was a hard hit. It was clean, it just overpowered him. I think it was more of the impact from bouncing off the board than the hit itself.”‘
With Matt Greene suffering a broken ankle the game before and Sheldon Souray (shoulder) and Joni Pitkanen (knee) also out for the foreseeable future, the Oilers are in deep trouble on the blue-line.
“Now we are getting into a situation we are familiar with,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. “We have gone from nine defencemen down to five. We’ll have to see what our options are.”
“It’s tough but we have to overcome this,” added Oiler forward Raffi Torres. “We have lost some key guys and some of us older guys in the room are going to have to step it up. We have to start doing it on the ice, not just talking about it.”
David Legwand, Radek Bonk and Vernon Fiddler also scored for Nashville, while Ales Hemsky had the lone goal for Edmonton.
The Predators (6-7-0), who got their first road victory of the season on Thursday in Vancouver, were playing their third game in four nights. Nashville has won four of its last five matches, and are starting to gain some confidence as a team.
“It’s a huge confidence builder,” said Arnott. “Especially on the road. It’s so hard to win on the road nowadays. Edmonton is such a fast team and they really forced us tonight. It was a solid team effort for us, from the goalie on out.”
Edmonton outshot the Preds 31-23.
“That’s the second game in a row where we were outshot and still managed to win,” said Nashville netminder Dan Ellis. “The shots on goal might not be there right now but the shooting percentage is.
“When the guys are getting their opportunities they are scoring. The whole team is really stepping things up and gaining some confidence.”
It was the second straight loss for Edmonton at home, falling to 5-9-0.
And not the way you want to enter a four-game road swing against all Northwest Division rivals.
“It’s an important stretch for us,” said Oilers assistant captain Shawn Horcoff. “Every game is a four-point game. I think we should be looking forward to a stretch like this because it can assist us in turning things around.”
Edmonton starter Mathieu Garon and Ellis each made eight saves in the scoreless first period.
Nashville utilized some strong passing to strike first, two and a half minutes into the second. Martin Erat made a nice cross-ice pass to Ville Koistenen and he quickly fed it to Legwand at the side of the net for the easy tap in past Garon.
The Oilers were able to respond 10 minutes later as Horcoff sprung Hemsky down the right wing and his wrist shot high to the stick side surprised Ellis, tying the game 1-1 after two.
He Oilers had a glorious opportunity midway through the third as Hemsky undressed Predator defenceman Ryan Suter but Ellis was able to make a toe save.
“He made a heck of a move,” said Ellis. “I just tried to throw something back there and I was fortunate to get a little piece of it.”
Nashville also had a close call a couple minutes later as Bonk trickled a shot through Garon’s legs but Dick Tarnstrom was there to swat the puck back under his goalie before it could cross the line.
But the Predators grabbed the lead for good with eight minutes remaining as Erat made a great long pass to Arnott who shovelled home his fifth of the season.
Nashville added an insurance marker two and a half minutes later as Denis Grebeshkov coughed the puck up to Bonk and he made a nice move to slide it through Garon’s legs.
Fiddler made it 4-1 with an empty-netter.
The Predators play the fourth game of their five-game road swing on Sunday in Chicago. The Oilers begin a four-game trip of their own on Monday in Minnesota.
Notes – Nashville owned Edmonton last season, winning all four games between the two teams, outscoring the Oilers 16-8. … Oilers forward Raffi Torres suited up in his 200th consecutive game as the team’s current iron man. … Friday’s game was the 80th consecutive sellout crowd of 16,839 at Rexall Place, dating back to Nov. 29, 2005. … Newly recalled forward Robert Nilsson skated on a line with Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll. Nilsson, acquired from the New York Islanders for Ryan Smyth, was sent down to Springfield of the AHL after playing the first five games in Edmonton.