Maple Leafs 4 Oilers 1
EDMONTON — Dion Phaneuf’s Alberta homecoming is off to a good start.
Phaneuf’s first goal of the season served as an offensive catalyst for his team as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 Tuesday.
Phaneuf was playing in his hometown for the first time since he was acquired from the Calgary Flames last season. The Toronto captain makes his return to Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, where he will likely receive a frosty reception.
“It was a big win for our team,” Phaneuf said. “We knew this was a big trip and we talked about starting it on the right foot. We played a really solid game. We didn’t give up a lot and we capitalized on our opportunities. The only negative part of our game was how much we gave up in the first but we responded well.”
Kris Versteeg had a goal and an assist for Toronto while Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel also scored for the Leafs (12-14-4), who have won two in a row and four of their last six. Toronto moved into a three-way tie for 10th in the Eastern Conference with Buffalo and Carolina.
Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said the key to the win was how the team bounced back from a competitive first period.
“We were trading chances with them in the first period but we felt if we played better defensively and didn’t turn over as many pucks at the offensive blue-line that we would be able to get a lot of scoring opportunities and we did,” he said. “And at the same time draw some penalties which we did. I thought in the second and third period we played as well as we have in a long time.”
Jordan Eberle scored for the Oilers (11-14-5), who have lost two in a row and three of four to remain in last place in the West.
“We started to take too many penalties and it disrupted the flow of the game,” Eberle said. “We just couldn’t get the momentum back. When you don’t come out ready for the second period that’s when you take penalties.”
Oilers head coach Tom Renney said his own punchless power play was just as much to blame as penalty killing.
“We took ourselves out of it in the second period with bad penalties and a power play that looked like a minor hockey power play. And maybe not that,” he said.
The Oilers came out flying but it was the Maple Leafs who struck first six minutes in as Phaneuf beat Oilers starter Nikolai Khabibulin with a blast from the point.
Edmonton tied the game up six minutes later as Ryan Whitney did a good job keeping a puck in at the point and sent it to Gagner who slid a pass under Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin to Eberle to give the rookie forward his seventh goal of the season
Toronto had a good chance to regain the lead with under a minute left as Versteeg had an open net to shoot for in a scramble but Khabibulin dove across to make a pad save.
The shots were 12-12 after the opening frame, significant for the Oilers in that it equalled their shot on net total from the entire game in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver.
The Leafs went up 2-1 eight and a half minutes into the second on the power play as Clarke MacArthur faked a shot and instead sent a nice feed to Grabovski who tapped in his ninth.
Toronto scored a lucky with two minutes to play in the second as a Versteeg shot dropped into the crease behind Khabibulin and went in off of the skate of defender Jason Strudwick as the Oilers attempted to clear it.
The shots after 40 minutes stood 25-15 in favour of the Maple Leafs.
Phaneuf didn’t make himself any more fans in his hometown in the third as he wrapped an arm around Oiler youngster Taylor Hall long after a whistle, prompting Dustin Penner to jump him and earning the Toronto captain an unsportmanlike call.
But it was Toronto that would score on a power play a couple of minutes later as Versteeg made a nice pass through the crease to Kessel, who pounded in his 12th.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 23 saves in the Leafs net for the win.
Tuesday’s game marked the debut of Edmonton’s cheer team, the Octane. The group of 19 women are the first cheerleaders for an NHL team based in Canada.
The Oilers close out a six-game homestand against Columbus on Thursday.
Notes: The game marked the conclusion of the seasonal series. Edmonton took the opener 5-0 in Toronto on Dec. 2… Defenceman Jim Vandermeer, out with a sprained ankle, joined the Oilers’ injured list which includes forwards Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. His spot on the blue-line was taken by veteran Jason Strudwick, who had sat out the previous 13 games… Out for Toronto were forward Mike Brown (broken finger), forward Jay Rosehill (day-to-day with a broken nose) and defenceman Mike Komisarek (out 1-2 weeks with a finger injury)… The Maple Leafs and Oilers came into the match with identical .636 winning percentages when scoring first in a game, tying them for 23rd in the league… As of Monday the Leafs and Oilers were tied for carrying the second youngest rosters in the league at 26.3 years. Colorado was youngest at 26.1.