COLUMBUS, Ohio – Problems with reliable backup goaltending and a productive power play were frustrating for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
It seems like they’ve found answers for both problems. Jakub Voracek scored the winner in the fourth round of the shootout and Mathieu Garon was solid in his second straight start to lift the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night.
“It was a heavy, hard game,” said Voracek who put home a glove-side snap shot. “They played well, we played well. Both goalies had a very good game. It was a big point for us in the shootout.”
After Voracek’s goal, Garon stopped Gilbert Brule to secure Columbus’ fourth win in five games.
Garon, who improved to 18-4 in shootouts, made 23 saves in his second straight game spelling Steve Mason, who allowed eight goals in a 9-1 loss to Detroit last Wednesday and has an .879 save-percentage.
“Sometimes it’s easier when you play two games in two or three nights,” said Garon, a former Oiler who signed to a two-year deal in the off-season to mentor Mason, last year’s rookie of the year. “It feels like you’re getting in a groove a little bit more. That’s how I felt today.”
All the goals in regulation were on the power play.
Anton Stralman had a goal and assist and Antoine Vermette also scored for the Blue Jackets. Fedor Tyutin added two assists.
“It’s been consistent,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of the power play, which entered 11th best in the league. The Blue Jackets finished last a season ago.
Lubomir Visnovsky had a goal and assist and Ales Hemsky also tallied for Edmonton. The Oilers, losers of four in a row, have only two wins in their last 12 games. Sheldon Souray had two assists.
“We had two real good periods,” Edmonton coach Pat Quinn said. “The second period we had some turnovers and played too much in our zone. We had some good efforts from our players and we will take positives out of that.”
Edmonton took a 2-1 lead on Visnovsky’s score 5:48 into the third period before Vermette tied it with 7:34 left on a redirection.
Nikolai Khabibulin made his 18th start in 21 games for the Oilers and finished with 30 saves.
“We had a pretty good effort from everyone,” Souray said. “We had great goaltending. If it weren’t for our goaltending, we probably wouldn’t have been in the game in the third period.”
With the score tied 1-1 in the third, Garon kicked aside Souray’s blast from the right point nearly outside the circles, but Visnovsky stepped into the puck to score his fifth on a one-timer.
About six minutes later it was Columbus’ turn on the man-advantage. Tyutin snapped a shot from the point that Vermette got his stick on from the slot with his back to the net for his fourth goal of the season, snapping a seven-game goal-scoring drought.
“We definitely wanted to try to take advantage on that,” Vermette said. “I was standing in front trying to get position. I ended up in front of him and Tyutin, it was a smart play, he was shooting at my stick. It was a good read from him. I tried to get piece of it.”
The game was physical from the beginning. Columbus’s Mike Blunden and Edmonton’s Zack Stortini squared off just 2:41 in. Just two seconds after play resumed, the Oilers’ Jason Strudwick tangled with Blue Jackets callup Tom Sestito.
The clubs traded power play goals in the second period and Columbus outshot Edmonton 14-4.
An ill-advised tripping penalty on captain Ethan Moreau behind the Columbus goal gave the Blue Jackets a two-man advantage for 1:18.
At the left circle, Stralman converted on the first power play, taking a pass from Kristian Huselius and converting on a low slap shot to make it 1-1 at 7:08.
“You try to shoot, obviously, and try and move the puck … and get the goalie moving,” Stralman said.
Reddox put the Oilers up a man by drawing a hooking penalty on Kris Russel as he side-stepped the defenceman across the blue-line into the zone, nearly scoring but Garon flashed his glove to make the save.
Hemsky, 31 points in 23 career games against Columbus, tied it at 13:13 with his fifth, beating a screened Garon with a slow shot from the left circle that went through the legs of Blue Jackets defenceman Rostislav Klesla and teammate Dustin Penner.
NOTES: Edmonton wrapped up a five-game road trip (1-2-2) that began with a win against Colorado. …The Blue Jackets embark on their own five-game swing that starts Thursday at Dallas. …The Oilers are 2-7-2 on the road. … Columbus went 2 for 4 on the power play, Edmonton was 2 for 5.