EDMONTON - There weren't many familiar name playing for the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, but one continues to stand out in the pre-season.
Veteran Owen Nolan started the scoring before Mike Duco scored the winner on a second-period short-handed goal as a relatively no-name Canucks squad showed up a largely veteran Edmonton Oilers team 2-1 in NHL exhibition play.
It was Nolan's second point in two exhibition games for the Canucks (2-1-0) as he attempts to return to the NHL ranks following a year abroad in Switzerland.
"I'm still getting back to the timing and the pace here but I definitely feel that I can keep up," said the 39-year-old, who picked up 26 points in 24 games with Zurich after spending the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Wild. "I have to earn it. I know there are spots, but they are not just going to give me one. I'm trying to work hard and show what I've got."
Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault said Nolan has looked pretty solid to this point after coming to the team on a professional try-out camp contract.
"The first thing you see is the professionalism he brings every day to the rink," he said. "He knows the game and goes out there and is quick to help out the younger guys. It's just a matter of whether or not he can keep up with the pace. The hands are still there. It's the beginning of camp, but I am very happy with what I have seen so far. There are some spots available right now."
Jordan Eberle replied for the Oilers (1-2-0), who had roughly 70 per cent of what should be their starting regular season lineup in the game. The Canucks, meanwhile, iced a roster made up largely from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, plus a few veterans on try-out contracts.
"That wasn't our best, obviously," said captain Shawn Horcoff. "We just couldn't find any chemistry."
Oilers head coach Tom Renney shrugged it off for what it was, a pre-season game.
"We weren't very inspired in the first half of the game," he said. "That was a tough lineup to coach against. But I thought we found our legs a little bit better in the second half of the second and were pretty good in the third. Playing how I think we have to, to have some success.
"It almost would have been easier to play (the Canucks regular season team) than what we saw tonight," he added. "More organized play might suit us better. It was kind of a free-for-all tonight."
The game got off to a rough and tumble start with a couple of fights in the first three minutes as Edmonton's Theo Peckham squared off with Aaron Volpatti and Canuck Todd Fedoruk dropped the gloves with Darcy Hordichuk.
Vancouver struck first, 13 minutes into the first period on a power play with Edmonton's Tom Gilbert in the penalty box. Finishing a nice three-way passing play, Nolan beat Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Edmonton's Taylor Hall was just coming back into the play after serving a penalty of his own.
Vancouver had 13 first-period shots while Edmonton only put six on Eddie Lack in the Canucks end.
Both teams changed goalies midway through the second, with Manny Legace coming in for the Canucks and Yann Danis for the Oilers.
After nearly 40 minutes with very few chances, goals were scored just 17 seconds apart in the final minute of the second.
The Canucks went up 2-0 with 53 seconds left in the second as defender Jeff Petry got caught pinching on the power play and Duco raced up ice on a two-on-one. He elected to shoot it himself and knocked his own rebound through Danis' legs for a short-handed goal.
Edmonton responded on the same power play as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins chipped the puck ahead to Eberle, who scored his second of the pre-season on a backhand shot.
The Oilers had a chance to draw even on a late third-period power play but Ryan Smyth was unable to bat a hard pass into a wide-open net.
Both teams return to the ice on Saturday as the Oilers remain at home to face the Calgary Flames, while the Canucks continue the pre-season at home against Anaheim.
Notes: Vancouver's squad barely qualified for league restrictions on sitting veteran players in exhibition games. League rules state you have to dress a minimum of nine veterans with 100 games played and/or former first-round draft picks. The Canucks were able to meet the standard due to the presence of six players in the match who are attending their camp on professional try-outs; Legace, Nolan, Anders Eriksson, Steve Begin, Fedoruk and Niko Dimitrakos…The Canucks signed 2011 first-round pick Nicklas Jensen on Thursday. Jensen was taken 29th overall by Vancouver after scoring 29 goals and 29assists last year for Oshawa in the OHL... Edmonton had a pair of veteran players making their first pre-season appearances after lengthy absences, extending back to March. Captain Shawn Horcoff had not played since suffering a left ankle fracture and fellow centre Sam Gagner returned for the first time since a tendon was sliced in his left hand by a teammate's skate…Gagner spent much of his off-season working on his skating skills with former two-time Canadian Olympian pairs figure skater, Barbara Underhill.