To borrow from that old Bon Jovi tune, the Edmonton Oilers are halfway there and living on a prayer after beating the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in a shootout at Rogers Place Thursday before hitting the road for a five-game swing that begins Saturday in Dallas.
The Oilers hit the Lone Star State with an 18-20-3 record for 39 points through 41 games, meaning they’ve still got plenty of work to do to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture – they’re eight points out of a playoff spot after last night as they face tough back-to-back matinees to open the trip. They’re in Dallas Saturday afternoon and in Chicago Sunday afternoon.
Waxed 5-0 by Winnipeg and Los Angeles in consecutive games before prevailing against the Ducks, the Oilers are 10 points off the pace they set last season – they were 21-13-7 for 49 points – on the way to 103 points thanks to a torrid finish that saw them win 12 of their final 14 games. The Oilers are going to need that kind of winning stretch at some point in these final 41 games if they’re going to climb into the top eight.
The Oilers compiled 54 points in their final 41 games last season and history tells us they’re going to need right around that many points the rest of the way to vault past the traffic in front of them and get into the post-season again. After Dallas and Chicago, they’ve got Nashville, Arizona and Las Vegas in the final three stops. They’ll give it a shot.
MONTOYA GETS THE SEAT
The Oilers addressed their backup goaltending with the acquisition of journeyman Al Montoya from the Montreal Canadiens last night. He’ll get the opportunity to cheerlead from the bench while Cam Talbot carries the mail, as he’ll have to if he Oilers are going to climb back into contention. That leaves Laurent Brossoit with a ticket back to Bakersfield of the AHL.
Back at the 2004 Entry Draft, Montoya was coveted by a handful of teams, including the Oilers. The New York Rangers selected the University of Michigan product sixth overall. Had Montoya been around when they Oilers picked 14th, they likely would have taken him. They instead took Devan Dubnyk from the Kamloops Blazers. The shine long ago came off Montoya. Simply put, he’s just never been what teams thought he might be back then.
That doesn’t mean Montoya can’t be a more effective back-up than Brossoit has been, but the 32-year-old is at a different place in his career now. Montoya, who never did play for the Rangers, hasn’t seen action since Nov. 4 because of a concussion. He has played in just four games this season. Career-wise, Montoya’s been a nomad, making NHL stops with Phoenix, the New York Islanders, Winnipeg, Florida and Montreal. Through 159 games, Montoya is 65-47-22 with a .908 save-percentage, 2.63 GAA and seven shutouts. Take a seat, Alvaro. Welcome.
Nothing sounds more homer-ish than complaining about bad officiating after a loss, so I’ll take the opportunity to throw in my two cents now about what we saw from the zebras last night. All players want from the referees is consistency in setting a standard about what’s OK and what’s not. We didn’t get that, yet again, from Garrett Rank and Gord Dwyer last night.
Milan Lucic was called for slashing late in the second period after delivering a tap to the hip of Rickard Rakell. Ryan Kesler of the Ducks converted on the ensuing power play early in the third period to tie it 1-1. Later, Kesler took two more far significant hacks at Leon Draisaitl right in front of the referee in the offensive zone and the whistle stayed in the pocket. No call. Set a standard and stick with it.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins likely won’t ever be the kind of offensive catalyst people thought he might become during a rookie season that saw him tally 52 points in 62 games and make a run at the Calder Trophy, but he’s having a nice bounce-back season. One of the details involved in that is his success in the face-off circles. RNH was 70 per cent on the dot against the Ducks and now sits at 50.25 per cent on the season. Back in his rookie season of 2011-12, he was 37.5 per cent.
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