EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers finally defeated a division rival and added to Roberto Luongo’s struggles in the process.
Nikolai Khabibulin made 35 saves and Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each had a goal and an assist as the Edmonton Oilers won 3-2 over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
Shawn Horcoff also scored for the Oilers (4-2-2) who won their second straight and beat a Northwest Division opponent for the first time in five tries.
“We looked at this game as a statement game,”Hall said.“These are the games that good teams win, the games that really matter in the standings at the end of the year. These are the games that, if we are the team that we think we are, that we have to win.”
Cody Hodgson and Alexandre Burrows responded for the Canucks (4-4-1).
Luongo, Vancouver’s heavily scrutinized starting goaltender, was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 14 shots. He was replaced by backup Cory Schneider who stopped all eight shots he faced.
Luongo cracked his stick against the boards on the way to the bench after getting yanked.
“It was a frustrating night for me,”Luongo said.“I felt I was moving well and seeing the puck well in the first period and then in a five-minute span they got three quick ones and that was all she wrote.”
For the Oilers it also showed they could hold on to a lead. Edmonton lost three games this season in which they led in the third period.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was good. We’ll take it,”said Edmonton head coach Tom Renney.“We played the kids late in the game because they were attacking and we thought it would be a good idea to try and keep the puck at the other end of the rink. I guess that was a good strategy.”
“We learned a valuable lesson tonight.”
Edmonton had some potentially disastrous news midway through the first as star defenceman Ryan Whitney got his skate tied up with teammate Corey Potter and went down hard before limping off the ice.
Whitney only played 35 games last season and missed the first four games of this season, still recovering from off-season surgery to his right ankle.
The 28-year-old defenceman was able to return for the last couple minutes of play in the opening period, but did not return after that with what was revealed to be a right knee sprain that Renney did not consider serious.
The Oilers started the scoring two minutes into the second period as Hall fed Eberle who beat Luongo high to the glove side with a wrist shot for his first of the season.
Edmonton quickly made it a 3-0 game with goals 57 seconds apart.
Four minutes after Eberle’s goal, Luongo coughed up the puck behind the net to Ryan Smyth, who fed it in front for Horcoff and he scored his first of the season into a wide-open net.
Less than a minute later Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sent a pass in front that caromed off a skate and Eberle’s stick to Hall, who pounded home his second of the year to end Luongo’s night.
Vancouver got on the board with eight minutes to play in the second period as a Hodgson shot ticked off the stick of Oiler Ryan Jones and redirected past Khabibulin to make it 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Edmonton came close to regaining it’s three-goal edge six minutes into the third but a Hall shot clanged off the post.
Vancouver bounced back with a quality chance of its own a couple of minutes later but Khabibulin was able to get back into position to make a point-blank save on defenceman Sami Salo.
The Canucks pulled to within one with 12 minutes left to play, as Henrik Sedin took a big rebound on a Salo shot and made a pretty backhand pass to Burrows who put it between Khabibulin’s legs to make it 3-2.
With just over six minutes left, Schneider made a spectacular glove save on the goal line to rob Eberle and keep Vancouver’s deficit at one.
David Booth made his Canucks debut after coming over in trade a with Florida. He played on a line with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins and finished with three shots on goal in just under 16 minutes of ice time.
“We had plenty of scoring opportunities,”said Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault.“But we are getting behind the eight-ball early and letting the other teams score the first goal. We’re having a tough time finding the back of the net.
“It always seems to be a challenge for us in October to find out timing and our rhythm. This October doesn’t seem to be any different.”
The Canucks return home to take on the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. The Oilers play the final game of a four-game homestand on Thursday against the Washington Capitals.
Notes: It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. Vancouver won the first game 4-3, taking away from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first career hat trick. … Nugent-Hopkins, this year’s first overall NHL draft pick who leads the Oilers in scoring, now has just one game left before the team can return him to junior. Edmonton has still not gone on record that he is staying with the team. … Booth played on all-American line with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins that has already been dubbed the American Express line. … Veteran 38-year-old Nikoali Khabibulin, who came in leading the league in goals against average and second in save percentage, made his third consecutive start in the Edmonton net.