EDMONTON – Trying to play with more emotion actually seemed to help the Edmonton Oilers get smart on Sunday night.
Sam Gagner scored the game winner and added an assist as the Oilers snapped a two-game losing skid with a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
Gilbert Brule also scored for the Oilers (20-18-3) who moved two points out of a playoff position and back over .500 at home at 9-8-3.
“We played a smart game,” said head coach Craig MacTavish. “We played a lot smarter than we had the last couple games. We didn’t blow them out of the water or anything but we had a very sharp game.”
After holding a lengthy players only meeting to address team emotion and the will to win following their 4-1 loss to San Jose on Friday, veteran Steve Staios was glad that the message seemed to have sunk in.
“It’s always great to see the initial reaction after you have a talk like that,” he said. “We showed a lot more emotion and played a much better skating game. We had great support from our forwards tonight. It helped us move the puck out of our zone. We spent far less time in our own zone tonight and I think that was a key factor in the win. It was an all-team effort.”
Gagner agreed that the team needs to start playing more like they did towards the end of last season.
“We talked the last few days about getting that energy back,” he said. “Last year at the end of the season we were gaining energy from everything whether a hit or a big play. We really need to establish that again. There was a lot of emotion tonight and that’s the way we have to play. Hopefully we can build off of it.”
Yan Stastny replied for the West Division-trailing Blues (16-22-3) who saw a two-game winning streak come to an end and have now lost 11 of their last 15.
“That definitely wasn’t a good effort,” said Blues forward Jay McClement. “It’s disappointing after we made strides and we played well two nights ago (a 6-4 win over Vancouver). I think it’s unacceptable.
“For whatever reason we just didn’t have the bite we did two nights ago. You have to follow up good efforts with just as good if not better efforts. I’m sure this one is not sitting well with anyone.”
There was no scoring in a rather uneventful first period with St. Louis putting 10 shots on Dwayne Roloson in the Edmonton net and the Oilers sending nine shots at Blues starter Manny Legace.
St. Louis broke the deadlock three minutes into the first period as Jay McClement swung out from behind the net and chipped a shot over Roloson’s pad to Stastny who had an easy tap in to give the Blues the 1-0 advantage.
Edmonton came back to tie it up eight minutes later as newcomer Ryan Potulny sprung Brule on a breakaway with a long pass and the Edmonton native made the most of it, deking Legace before beating him glove-side for his first of the season. It was also Brule’s first point as an Oiler since coming to the team in an off-season deal with Columbus.
“I was cheating a little bit and was wide open for the pass,” Brule said. “I broke in and went upstairs because he is a smaller goalie. We talked about that before the game.”
Edmonton took the lead for good six and a half minutes into the third period after some persistent forechecking paid off when Erik Cole sent a pass back to Gagner just shy of the point and he blew a slapshot past Legace for just his fourth of the season.
“It’s great for Sam,” MacTavish said. “He’s put a lot of pucks at the net and hasn’t had a lot of luck.”
The Blues did not register their first shot of the third period until there was under four minutes left to play.
Both teams return to action on Tuesday with Edmonton beginning a three-game trip in Washington and the Blues playing in Calgary.
Notes: With Zack Stortini going down with a left leg injury in Edmonton’s last game against San Jose, the Oilers made a call to the farm to bring up Ryan Potulny from Springfield of the American Hockey League. Potulny leads the Falcons in goals (17) and points (31) this season and earned his first NHL point of the season with a second period assist and got another helper in the third. . . . Oilers leading scorer Ales Hemsky sat out his seventh straight game with post-concussion symptoms but the club did have some good news as Sheldon Souray returned to the lineup after leaving Friday’s game in the second period with an upper-body injury. . . . St. Louis had its usual parade of players out for the game as Paul Kariya (hip), Eric Brewer (herniated disc), Andy McDonald (fractured leg), Jay McKee (broken finger) and D.J. King (shoulder) were all absent.