NEW YORK – The Edmonton Oilers’ record of 20-33-6, last-place in the Western Conference, doesn’t quite indicate how dangerous they can be.
Their play, on the other hand, illustrated that quite clearly on Thursday night.
In a blink, Nail Yakupov, who’s had a sophomore season to forget after scoring 17 goals in 48 games during his rookie campaign last year, scored the go-ahead goal when he was left alone in the slot with 1:38 left in the third period.
Before Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot (29 saves) could react, the quick slapper was past him, Yakupov was celebrating, and the Oilers were a defensive stand away from snapping the Rangers’ four-game winning streak with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden.
It was Yakupov’s 11th goal in 54 games this season.
“I was actually quite glad that it was tied 1-1 going into the third period,” said first-year Oilers coach Dallas Eakins. “It’s one of those things you want your team to experience, to settle into that 1-1 game. Finally, we get rewarded.”
“The winning goal was five guys on the ice getting beat to loose pucks and them protecting the puck and finding the open man all alone in the slot, said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “There were five puck battles. We lost them all, and it ends up in the back of our net.”
Playing in the 6,000th game in franchise history, the Rangers (31-24-3) came out sluggish, and the Oilers made them pay three minutes in when Ryan Smyth pushed the puck past the goal line after David Perron’s shot bounced over Talbot’s shoulder and sat on the line.
“They came out and they scored the first goal,” Vigneault said. “I thought some parts of our game we were executing and playing fast, and some other parts we were standing still and watching them. We had some good chances prior to their goal, and didn’t hit the net. They buried theirs.”
“I don’t think, consistently through 60 minutes, we played the way we needed to,” said captain Ryan Callahan, who had a second-period shorthanded breakaway denied by Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens (35 saves). “We played kind of in spurts. We got opportunities; we need to score on them. That was the difference.”
The Rangers surged in the second period, scoring 22 seconds into the period when Derick Brassard scored off an Oilers’ defensive zone turnover. But that’s all the offense they got against Scrivens, who improved to 3-3-0 since joining the team in January.
“We said prior to the game they’re a good transition team with a lot of speed,” Callahan said. “We were a little sloppy through the neutral zone, and when you do that against a team like that, it’s going to cost you.”
“I thought we settled in [as the game went on],” Eakins said. “It was night and day from even a month ago. We were way more settled on the bench. There wasn’t a lot of panic on the ice, and I liked our patience.”
The Rangers are back in action Friday in Pittsburgh to wrap up their pre-Olympic schedule. The NHL’s roster freeze goes into effect at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, at which point no roster moves can be made until February 23, after the Olympics end.
Ryan Callahan’s situation remains unsettled. There were multiple reports his agent, Steve Bartlett, planned to talk to Rangers general manager Glen Sather regarding a new contract. If there is no movement by Friday at 3 p.m., the NHL’s trade deadline is March 5. Sather is rumored to be investigating the possibility of trading his heart-and-soul captain, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
During a break in the first period, the Rangers honored the players from both teams heading to Sochi for the Olympics.
The Rangers had zero power plays in the game, the first time they haven’t had a man advantage since Dec. 15, 2011. It was just the third time since 1987-88 the Rangers played in a game when there was a total of two penalty minutes combined between the two teams.
Through 6,000 games, the Rangers have a record of 2,592-2,506-808-94. They’ve played 1,779 games at the current Madison Square Garden, going 935-600-200-44.
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: