Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Taylor Hall (EDM) — 2G
Jordan Eberle (EDM) — 1G, 2A
Nikolai Khabibulin (EDM) — 33 saves
Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff was beaming after his proteges Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle capped off the team’s three-game road swing with some of their best work yet.
Hall scored twice and Eberle chipped in a goal and two assists in the Oilers 5-0 win against the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday to push Edmonton’s victory string to a season-high three games.
When Hall and Eberle exhibit the type of improvement they did against the Maple Leafs, the 32-year-old Horcoff’s investment this season into helping his young teammates assimilate to the pro game has been worth it.
"I like it," said Horcoff, when asked if he relishes his teaching role. "They are not only my teammates, but my linemates. If we’re going to go up against the top lines in this league, we need to show improvement each game and we want to be one of these top lines."
The low point for the Oilers arrived earlier this month when Horcoff was hobbled with a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for three losses in a row to Carolina, Detroit and New Jersey. But as he worked himself back into form after his ailment, the Oilers kept losing.
Finally, head coach Tom Renney had seen enough. He lambasted his players’ effort following a 5-0 loss on the road to the Phoenix Coyotes. Horcoff and the young Oilers have responded with four wins in five games.
'He's a mentor'
The Horcoff line has combined for five goals and eight points during this stretch. Eberle went 15 games without a goal until he scored in the first period against Toronto.
"He is a mentor," Eberle said when asked what Horcoff has meant to his development. "He has a lot of knowledge. He is very approachable. He answers all our questions."
If you glance at the Oilers bench during the game, you can see Horcoff constantly instructing his young linemates. It’s almost as if they have another coach to work with.
"He has a lot of good years left in him," Eberle said. "One thing you learn from a guy like him is how good of shape you need to be in to play in this league and how hard you have to work."
But this is more to Horcoff’s words of wisdom. He reminds Hall and Eberle about the "little things" they need to do to succeed. For example, if one of them goes wide with the puck, the others need to drive the middle.
Other significant areas are to support each other, be strong along the boards, and Horcoff constantly preaches the importance of the defensive side to the game. A perfect example of that was the turnover they created from Toronto’s Tyler Bozak that led to Hall’s second goal of the game in the third period.
"In junior, they were used to creating offence all by yourself easily," Horcoff said. "It’s not like that in this league and they are realizing that. You have to pressure together and support each other."
Renney likes what he has seen in Eberle and Hall recently. They have more energy, confidence, better awareness defensively and have increased their compete level. How much of this has to do with Horcoff?
"He has given them the proper enlightenment as a veteran player and as a captain in how to deal circumstances on the ice," Renney said. "Their instincts help them a lot, but there is nothing like leaning on a veteran.
"He’s a really nice person, and he has a really good mind for the game," Hall added. "To be able to tap that mind has been a big benefit."
The crowd of 19,465 watched the Maple Leafs get blanked for the sixth time in 24 outings this season. A steady stream of jeers from the Toronto faithful began late in the second period and escalated into "Fire Wilson, Fire Wilson" late in the game.
The Maple Leafs appear headed for their sixth consecutive season of missing the playoffs, and third under coach Ron Wilson. They have dropped four consecutive games and now sit below the Oilers in 28th overall in the standings. At 8-12-4, the Maple Leafs’ 20 points is only one point ahead of their pace from last season.
The Boston Bruins are smiling because they have the Maple Leafs' 2011 first-round pick from the Phil Kessel trade.
Pressed into action
Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was supposed to make his comeback from his groin injury against Marc Savard and the Boston Bruins at home on Saturday. But when backup Jonas Gustavsson was lifted in the second period after he allowed two soft goals from Eberle and Hall on only six shots on goal, Giguere was summoned from the bench.
"A little momentum," Wilson said, when asked why he made the change. "But two weak goals. The Monster [Gustavsson] would agree with that."
Giguere missed six games due to his injury. Toronto forward Colby Armstrong, who sat out his 16th game because of a broken finger, is expected to return on Saturday.
Ever since the Oilers' 6-foot-5, 250-pound enforcer Steve MacIntyre knocked out Calgary Flames forward Raitis Ivanans in a fight on opening night, MacIntyre hasn’t had to drop his gloves — until Thursday at the ACC.
Maple Leafs fourth-line forward Colton Orr decided to take on MacIntyre in the first period, but swiftly felt the power of the Oilers tough guy and was knocked down with a right-hand punch.
Press box visitor
Atlanta Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley was in the press box scouting the Oilers-Maple Leafs game.