EDMONTON – Two days after Edmonton coach Tom Renney blasted his team for a lack of effort, he saw the kind of results he was looking for.
Taylor Hall showed why Edmonton made him the first pick in last June's Entry Draft by scoring the game-winning goal with 28.1 seconds left in regulation to give the Oilers a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, snapping a six-game winless streak on home ice.
With the teams apparently headed for overtime after Colorado overcame an early 2-0 deficit, Jordan Eberle – another of the Oilers' prized rookies – carried behind the Colorado net, curled into the left circle and zipped a pass across the slot. Hall, who had leaked into an open spot in the lower right circle, fired the puck high past Peter Budaj to give the Oilers their first win at Rexall Place since Oct. 10.
"It was definitely a big goal for our team, no matter who got it," said Hall, who scored his fifth of the season and his first NHL game-winner. "Especially to get a home win like this; to put our sticks up at the end of the game and know we played our hearts out."
Renney was glad to see the puck on Hall's stick with the game on the line.
"What I like about Taylor is that he is going to shoot it through the net when he has an opportunity like that," Renney said. "He's not just going to get it there, he's got everything on it. It was a great play all around just to get it to him."
Another Oiler who made a difference was Martin Gerber, making his first NHL start since April 11, 2009, after being recalled from Edmonton's AHL team in Oklahoma City. He stopped 35 shots as the Oilers improved to 6-11-4. Colorado fell to 12-9-1 after its second loss in as many nights. The Avs were beaten 4-2 at Vancouver on Wednesday.
"It's huge for the whole team," said Gerber, who got the call after Nikolai Khabibulin went down with a strained groin. "I think we played a good game and really stuck to our game plan. We put a lot of work and effort in it."
Renney was furious with his team's performance in a 5-0 loss at Phoenix on Tuesday – and let his players know it. The Oilers responded by getting early goals from Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano to take a quick 2-0 lead – a novelty for a team that had been outscored 29-13 in the opening period.
"Definitely, one of our weaknesses has been our starts lately," Hall said. "Even if the other team doesn't score a goal, they get a bunch of shots and the momentum is kind of in their favor.
"It's was really nice to get those two goals that put us ahead. That gave us a little bit of breathing room. It lets us know that if we play that kind of game it's going to work."
Brule, who'd gone nine games without a goal dating back to a 4-3 loss to Vancouver Nov. 2, put the Oilers up 1-0 just 1:40 into the game when he banked a puck off Budaj into the net. Cogliano, who hadn't scored in 11 games since Oct. 29, made it 2-0 at 3:51 when he pounced on a puck knocked loose by Brule behind the net, swung in front and tucked it behind Budaj.
"It's not like we haven't been stressing that in the first place," Renney said of the kind of robust start he's been looking for. "This is the type of team that sort of has to be faced with that and the dilemma that might exist beyond that if they don't do something about it. Tonight, they did."
Unlike recent Oilers games, this time it was the opposing coach who wasn't happy with his team's start.
"We didn't have a good start to the game," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "We had a few guys that weren't ready when the puck dropped and that cost us a couple of goals. We got ourselves back into it and played pretty well after that until we got caught on our heels a little bit in the third.
While the Oilers avoided yet another bad start -- although they were outshot 11-4 in the opening 20 minutes, making it 16 straight games in which they have been outshot in the first period -- they still haven't got their porous penalty-killing figured out.
After Kevin Shattenkirk cut Edmonton's lead to 2-1 in a scramble 5:50 into the first period, Colorado pulled even on a power play 3:04 into the second as Matt Duchene snapped a loose puck past Gerber.
Edmonton's 30th-ranked penalty-killers have given up goals in five straight games and in 16 of the 21 games the Oilers have played.
Gerber got the Oilers to the second intermission even at 2-2 despite facing 28 shots in the opening 40 minutes, compared to just 11 by Budaj.
"He was fine," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said of Gerber. "We got some shots, but I don't know if we tested him the way we should have. At the end of the day, our best players need to be our best players and I don't think they were tonight."
Renney saw Gerber's performance somewhat differently.
"I think by his own admission, he might suggest he was a little rusty early," Renney said. "But, boy, did he ever nail it down and he was really strong and battled. He showed a lot of character."