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Hall scores 2, Nugent-Hopkins adds another as Oilers edge Coyotes 3-2

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

EDMONTON - Ryan-Nugent Hopkins is not only showing he belongs in the NHL, he's showing he belongs with Taylor Hall.

Nugent-Hopkins, the 2011 first-overall draft pick and Hall, first overall in 2010, each had three-point nights as the Edmonton Oilers won their third consecutive pre-season game, defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 on Tuesday.

Hall had two of the goals and Nugent-Hopkins the other for the Oilers, who improved to 4-2-0 in exhibition action.

Nugent-Hopkins, who leads the Oilers in pre-season scoring with six points in four games, said he is gaining confidence as he goes, especially in his most recent effort, playing on a line with Hall and another Oilers first-round pick, Jordan Eberle.

"We gelled together pretty quick," the 18-year-old Nugent-Hopkins said. "I felt pretty good out there with those guys. It’s a ton of fun playing with those two guys and they both make it a lot easier for me coming in. Learning from them really helps. I can't get too high, but I think this helps my confidence."

Hall, who underwent the scrutiny of being a first overall selection last year, said Nugent-Hopkins looks like he will live up to his billing.

"He's just such a good passer," he said. "I think any player could go on that line and play well. He finds guys. He has good speed. And people don't talk about his defensive zone play enough. He's doing that at an NHL level.

"Ryan has done a lot of good things, maybe everything that he can do to make this team."

Eberle said the young line combination is having fun, but cautioned that it was still pre-season.

"We can't get too high about how we looked together. It's only one pre-season game," he said. "But it was good to show how successful we could be."

Ray Whitney and Shane Doan responded for the Coyotes, who have lost three straight to sit at 2-3-0 in the pre-season.

The game was scoreless until there was just two minutes remaining in the first period when the two players expected to be cornerstones for Edmonton in the future combined on a power-play goal.

Playing on the same line for the second time, the highly-drafted duo got the scoring going as Hall drove hard to the net on the man advantage and took enough of Phoenix goalie Mike Smith's attention that Nugent-Hopkins was able to sweep in the rebound.

The Oilers' future line struck again just over a minute into the second period as Nugent-Hopkins made a long pass just above the top of the crease to Hall, who snapped home his second exhibition goal.

The third Oiler goal was more of the same as Nugent-Hopkins made a backhand pass from the slot to a hard-charging Hall, who blew a shot past Smith to the glove side.

Phoenix put their first goal on the scoreboard with two minutes left in the middle frame on a penalty-killing gaffe by the Oilers, who allowed Whitney to receive a pass completely alone in front of the net and he swung around a helpless Nikolai Khabibulin and deposited the puck into the net.

Phoenix closed to within a goal with five minutes remaining on another power play as Doan had a quick release on a feed from Patrick O'Sullivan for his second of the pre-season.

Khabibulin finished with 18 saves for his second exhibition win, while Smith stopped 29 shots in the loss.

The Coyotes are in Calgary to continue the pre-season on Thursday. The Oilers play again on Friday in Minnesota.

Notes: The Oilers dressed a line of Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff that was highly effective in their 2006 run to the Stanley Cup finals. It was the first time the trio had played together since Smyth was traded away at the deadline in 2007. ... Hemsky was playing his first game since suffering a shoulder injury seven months ago. ... The Oilers announced centre Sam Gagner had suffered a high-ankle strain and would be out week-to-week. ... Former Oiler O'Sullivan came into the game leading the Coyotes with four points in three pre-season games. O'Sullivan signed a two-way deal with Phoenix this summer. ... The Coyotes' top line was the veteran grouping of Whitney, Daymond Langkow and Doan. Langkow only played in four games in the 2010-11 season. ... The Coyotes had five of their top six defencemen dressed for the game.


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