EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have dug themselves an awfully deep hole, but at least there has been some upward movement of late.
Jordan Eberle scored twice as the Oilers won their third game in a row for the first time this season, getting past the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Thursday night.
Sam Gagner and David Perron also scored and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had three assists for the Oilers (7-15-2) who improved to 3-7-0 at Rexall Place this season.
“We’ve got some confidence back and some swagger,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It is definitely nice. You obviously can’t get too high, but when you are losing a lot of games in a row some guys can get down. You need to stay positive and it is easy to do that when you are winning.”
Edmonton was 2-9-1 in its previous 12 games before embarking on the winning streak.
“Winning games does so much for the confidence of the team, especially when you are playing well and winning,” said Oilers forward Taylor Hall. “That’s a double bonus. We are getting great goaltending and it seems like our special teams is the engine that is driving us right now. We are getting a lot of confidence off of that.”
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been very sharp of late.
“He seems really focused early in the games,” he said. “When our team was struggling, we weren’t focused early and he was part of that. I find him very focused to start games now. Then he gets into the rhythm and gets a little swagger back there. He has been excellent for us of late, and when your goalie is excellent the wins start piling up.”
Eakins added it has also been a good thing to provide the home fans something to cheer about.
“It’s always nice when you are coming off the ice and they are clapping and not yelling ‘You suck,'” he said.
Scottie Upshall responded for the Panthers (6-13-4) who saw a season-high two-game winning streak come to an end.
“Our starts have been hurting us. We’ve had a handful of games where we’re behind the eight-ball right away and in this league, it’s hard to catch up,” said Panthers defenceman Tom Gilbert. “They came out strong and we just weren’t ready to match that.
“We had our opportunities, it was just a matter of trying to get the second goal, trying to get some momentum, trying to get some energy going for us and we just never got that.
Florida head coach Peter Horachek said his team just didn’t seem to be going the same speed as the Oilers.
“The key was the energy, we didn’t have any,” he said. “That’s the key to the game, if your energy is better and you go out with a workman attitude, everything improves, the whole game improves from our standpoint.
“I thought at the beginning of the game, you could see the work ethic wasn’t there, the legs weren’t there, the compete level wasn’t there. That made it a struggle.”
The Oilers picked up right where they left off in Tuesday’s 7-0 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring a power play goal just 57 seconds into the contest.
A Nugent-Hopkins point shot deflected into the air and Eberle was able to bat it past Florida goalie Tim Thomas for his seventh of the season. It was Edmonton’s 12th straight unanswered goal stretching back to a four-goal third-period explosion in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Calgary.
Edmonton had 12 first period shots to Florida’s six on Dubnyk.
The Oilers made it 2-0 six minutes into the second period as Nail Yakupov did a good job waiting out traffic on a three-on-two break, sending a nice pass to a trailing Gagner who beat Thomas high to the glove side for his first of the season.
Edmonton took a three-goal lead just past the mid-mark of the second frame with another power play goal as Perron was able to tip in his eighth of the season off of a one-timer from the top of the circle by defenceman Justin Schultz.
Florida finally got on the board with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the second period as the Panthers caught Edmonton scrambling with defender Corey Potter without a stick and Upshall somehow snuck a bad-angle shot between Dubnyk and the post to make it 3-1.
The Panthers had three power plays in the third period, but were unable to get anything past Dubnyk.
Eberle scored his second of the game into an empty net to put the game away.
The Panthers wrap up a five-game road trip in Calgary on Friday night. The Oilers are off until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks.
Notes: The game was the second of two meetings between the teams this season. Edmonton won the first game 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 5 when rookie forward Mark Arcobello scored the first two goals of his NHL career, including the overtime winner. Arcobello was a healthy scratch for the rematch…After the loss to the Oilers, the Panthers fired head coach Kevin Dineen, replacing him with current bench boss Peter Horachek…The Oilers put bruising forward Steven MacIntyre on waivers for the purpose of reassignment to their AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City…Panthers defenceman Mike Weaver missed the game with an illness, while forward Scott Gomez missed his eighth game with a groin injury. Defenceman Ed Jovanovski (hip) is officially off injured reserve, but has still yet to play this season…Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the Heritage Classic Game in Edmonton, the NHL’s first-ever outdoor match-up. Among those in attendance was a 12-year-old Taylor Hall to see the Oilers face the Montreal Canadiens. There are six outdoor games scheduled this season in the NHL…Oilers centre Boyd Gordon was an impressive 15-2 in faceoffs in the game.