SUNRISE, FLA. - Ryan Jones has gone from sitting in the press box to playing his best best hockey of the year as the Edmonton Oilers strive to close out the season on a winning note.
Some of his recent success can be attributed to linemates, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who Jones has been paired with lately.
But most of the credit should go to Jones himself, taking the opportunity to play on a top line and making the most of it.
“I’ve said all along that my job on that line is to get them the puck and create some space for them,” said Jones, after scoring in a 2-1 shootout win over the Florida Panthers Friday. “The goal was actually a really good defensive zone setup for us and we created a little bit of a turnover and we all took off. Ebs made a nice play and I closed my eyes and when I opened them everybody was cheering.”
Jones’ goal gave him 16 on the season, inching him closer to the career-high 18 netted last year.
He now has two goals in his last three games and four points in his last five playing with the Oilers two talented youngsters on the top line.
It’s a different role Jones has been accustomed to playing this year.
“The different roles are something I like to embrace,” Jones said. “I like being a shutdown guy as well, someone that Tom (Renney) can lean on in times when he needs a guy to go out and not get scored against.
“I embrace both roles. They’re both fun and I’m just getting an opportunity now to watch elite players close up.”
Jose Theodore appears to have found a home in Florida. The veteran goaltender, who appeared to have his days in the NHL numbered as a backup in Minnesota has found his game in the sun.
Heading into Friday’s game against the Oilers, Theodore had a 22-14-7 record with a 2.40 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
He’s one of the reasons the Panthers went into the game leading their division standings and ranked third in the Eastern Conference.
Earlier this season, Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk was burned after wandering out of his crease to play a puck along the boards.
That incident may have crossed Dubnyk’s mind as he raced out to the blue line Friday to play a puck against the Florida Panthers.
On this occasion, Dubnyk got to it first, before Panthers centre Stephen Weiss, sliding down and kicking it away.
“That one was in Columbus, I didn’t make it there,” smiled Dubnyk. “This one, I felt good at first, then halfway there, I didn’t feel so good, and then right before I got there, I saw that I was OK. You just kind of lay down on a play like that and make sure you get it outside the blue line. As long as you get it outside the blue line you’re safe, it doesn’t matter when it goes, you want to get it out and just try not to get killed in the process.”
Later in the shootout, Dubnyk ventured out of his crease again, this time to poke-check the puck away from Wojtek Wolski. It’s a play that sometimes sees a goaltender get kneed in the head.
“It’s something I used to do in junior all the time,” Dubnyk said. “I’ve kind of thought about doing it here, but really the only time you can do it, is when a left-handed shot comes down that side. It’s harder to do from the other side.
“I kind of felt good about it tonight, but you can’t go too early on those, because you can get toasted too.”
Down a stripe
With one referee Friday, it made things easier for Oilers head coach Tom Renney had felt the need to vent at the officiating.
The game lost an official when Tim Peel had to depart the contest early, a suspected victim of food poisoning, leaving Dean Morton to call the game on his own.
“For as much as I yell, with one, you can find him pretty quick,” smiled Renney. “They came to us early and told us that Tim was having some difficulty and might not be able to finish the game.
“We were forewarned at the beginning of the game that he might not make it. He did look a little pale. It’s a tough one for him.”