EDMONTON – The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t want to leave empty-handed on a rare trip to Alberta.
Tomas Kaberle had a goal and two assists and Matt Stajan added three helpers as the Leafs won for just the second time in their last six outings, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Thursday night.
Nikolai Kulemin, Nik Antropov, Ian White and Mikhail Grabovski also recorded goals for the Leafs, who haven’t played in Edmonton since January 2006, and moved back over the .500 mark at 7-6-4.
Toronto’s Jason Blake had two assists after being a healthy scratch in the Leafs’ last game – a loss to Calgary on Tuesday-in Toronto’s road trip through Western Canada that finishes in Vancouver on Saturday.
“For us, coming off of Calgary we wanted to establish something early tonight and in Calgary the last game they handed it to us pretty good,” Stajan said. “Actually, the Oilers took it to us early. We wanted to make sure that we’re ready to go and obviously we’ve got to be physical too.
“They’ve got a lot of skill on that team so you’ve got to make sure you’re physical and good players.”
Stajan feels he has started to develop some real chemistry with linemates Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
“I think our line, we’re rolling and we’re playing with confidence,” Stajan said. “It’s resulting in a lot of goals and we know we’ve got to do that on a nightly basis to give ourselves the chance to win.
“It’s a pretty simple game when you keep it simple and you go to the net and you’re playing with (Antropov) and (Ponikarovsky), they go to the net, they’re big bodies and they can find the puck when there’s a scramble in front and right now we’re really clicking.”
Sam Gagner and Ethan Moreau responded for the Oilers, who had a two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 8-7-1 on the season.
Edmonton, coming off a season-high seven-game road trip, has often had trouble starting games; this time they couldn’t finish.
“We were definitely concerned coming off our long road trip with our start to this game, but we came out energized and ready to go,” said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios. “It seems it is that first period when you are coming off a long trip that does you in, but it was the rest of the game that did it to us tonight.
“We spent a lot of time in our zone in the second period and had some penalties to try and kill off and that was the momentum shift.”
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish said the same two things that cost them the game have killed his team all year – penalty killing and making high-risk plays.
“It’s just the mental mistakes and the stubbornness that I don’t get,” he said. “Hopefully things start to sink in at some point or it is going to be a roller coaster ride again.
“I give (the Leafs) credit because they are a hard-working group that is structured and we lack that structure in our game right now. And that’s why we got pounded.”
The Oilers struck first on the power play with 12 minutes to play in the opening period. Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala made the initial stop on a shot by Denis Grebeshkov but couldn’t get over in time to stop Gagner with the rebound at the side of the net. It was the first goal of the season for the 19-year-old second-year Oiler.
“It was obviously a weight off my shoulders,” Gagner said. “There’s still along ways to go this year and I have to find a way to have a more consistent effort every game and try to create my own bounces. But it was definitely a good feeling.”
Toronto surged ahead with a couple of power-play goals of its own to start the second. Kaberle put the Leafs on the board when he fired a bullet from the point past Oilers starter Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Toronto then went up 2-1 less than two minutes later as another Kaberle shot was tipped into the net by Kulemin.
Edmonton tied the game up just over seven minutes into the second period. Team captain Moreau had three whacks at a loose puck before finally squeezing it between Toskala’s skate and the post.
The Leafs regained the lead with 1:01 to go in the second period after prolonged pressure in the Edmonton zone. Antropov took a pass in the slot and wired a wrist shot past Drouin-Deslauriers to go ahead 3-2.
Toronto added some insurance five minutes into the third as Ales Hemsky coughed up the puck to Jason Blake at the Edmonton blue-line, and he fed a pass to White who blasted his second of the season into the net for a 4-2 advantage.
The Leafs put the game away with six and a half minutes to go with their third power-play goal of the night as Grabovski was allowed to waltz in front of the net and bat in his eight of the season for a 5-2 final.
Antropov thought the key to the game was the success on the power play as the Leafs went 3-for-4.
“The PP was clicking for us, and if the power play is clicking there’s more than a 50 per cent chance that you’re going to win the game,” he said. “That’s what happened to us.”
Both teams return to the ice on Saturday as the Oilers close out their mini two-game visit home against the Colorado Avalanche and the Maple Leafs finish off their three-game road trip in Vancouver.
Notes: It was the 16th game this season for the Oilers but just their fourth at home. The Oilers were coming off a season-high seven-game trip where they sported a 4-3 record. … Forward Jesse Boulerice joined the Oilers on Thursday after being claimed off of waivers from Colorado earlier in the week, but did not play. The 30-year-old New York native was brought in to help with team toughness with enforcer Steve MacIntyre on the shelf for eight to 12 weeks with a fractured orbital bone. … Jason Blake drew back into the Leafs lineup after being sat out as a healthy scratch in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss in Calgary. … The Oilers entered the contest 38-35-8-1 all time versus Toronto and 23-14-6-1 at home.