VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — With high expectations coming in, the Edmonton Oilers got their season off to a good start.
Ales Hemsky tied the score in the third period and added the shootout winner as Edmonton rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in its season-opener Sunday night.
Sam Gagner also scored in the shootout for the Oilers, while Devan Dubnyk stopped both Vancouver attempts.
"We have an abundance of offensively-skilled players, but shooting penalty shots is a whole different ball game," said Edmonton's Ralph Krueger, who picked up a win in his first game as an NHL head coach. "And, I think the way Gagner and Hemsky dealt with that tonight was outstanding."
The young, offensively-gifted Oilers have entered the lockout-delayed season with many observers expecting them to take a strong run at making the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Edmonton has not qualified for the postseason since losing to Carolina in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.
Krueger, who served as an assistant last season when the Oilers finished 29th overall, said the club is learning how to finish games and has a much different "swagger." It began to show itself Sunday as the Oilers overcame a slow start.
The club's penalty-killers played a key role as the Oilers blanked the Canucks on five power-play opportunities while convert one of four.
"The penalty-killing was outstanding, and the most important penalty-killer is always your goaltender," Krueger said. "(Dubnyk) just showed so much calm, (stayed) well-positioned the whole time, and our penalty-killing bought us the time."
The Canucks gave up a 2-0 lead and have now lost consecutive games after opening the season with a 7-3 loss at home to Anaheim on Saturday night.
Jordan Eberle had the other goal in regulation for Edmonton, while Alex Edler and Zack Kassian scored for Vancouver.
After struggling early, Edmonton showed glimpses of its offensive potential from the 12 former first-round picks on the roster.
"It showed a lot of the character we have in the locker-room," Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff said of the comeback. "It shows our belief. It showed our depth. They were a little tired, obviously, coming off Saturday night, and we were able to take it to them in the third. It was nice to get a win."
Roberto Luongo, who was expected to be traded after being displaced as Vancouver's starter by Cory Schneider in the playoffs last spring, made his second appearance in two games and finished with 30 saves.
Dubnyk finished with 27 to get the win.
Despite the loss, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was happy with his club's effort against a rested Oilers squad.
"We didn't have much left in the tank halfway through the third period, but we tried to battle through," he said.
Trailing 2-0 late in the second, Eberle got the Oilers on the board by roofing a backhander past Luongo from a sharp angle with just 4 seconds left in the period.
Edmonton pressed for the tie in the third period, with Hemsky beating Luongo on a weak shot from the wing on the power play with 5:55 left in regulation.
The goal came after Andrew Ebbett took a penalty for tripping Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov.
Edmonton had 12 players in the AHL or in Europe during the lockout, while only four Canucks played overseas during the labor dispute. Horcoff said the game-readiness made a difference against Vancouver.
"I think it helped a lot, maybe, after the first period," he said. "We came out a little bit flat, but I thought as the game wore on, we got better, and it didn't take us too long to adapt."
Krueger offered a different view, however.
"I haven't noticed a big difference, which is surprising if you see (veterans) Horcoff and (Ryan Smyth) carry all those penalties (on penalty-kills) tonight without having played much hockey," he said. "I think the difference whether you've played a lot will show up in a few weeks."
NOTES: Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz, a highly-coveted free-agent signing, also played his first NHL game. ... Vancouver defensemen Jim Vandermeer, Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts were scratched for the second straight game. ... Krueger scratched former Canucks winger Darcy Hordichuk, winger Magnus Paajarvi and defenseman Mark Fistric. ... The Canucks recorded their 410th consecutive sellout. .... Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is recovering from offseason hip injury.