MONTREAL – As hot as veteran Ryan Smyth has been, he was quick to give goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin much of the credit for the streaking Edmonton Oilers’ latest victory.
Smyth had a goal and an assist but Khabibulin was the difference as the Oilers downed the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 despite being outshot 29-14 on Tuesday night.
“Great goaltending gave us a chance,” said Smyth, who has nine points in his last five games. “Habby’s been playing superb all year.
“In the third they had some chances but we found a way to hold on. It was a good road win.”
Ryan Jones scored short handed and Tom Gilbert got the game-winner for the Northwest Division-leading Oilers (9-3-2), who rebounded from a 4-2 loss to Phoenix on Saturday to post their seventh win in eight games.
They have surrendered one or fewer goals in seven of their 14 games and Khabibulin has dominated the league’s goaltending statistics since the start of the season.
“I wouldn’t say all season long because it hasn’t been long yet, but I felt pretty good,” the 38-year-old said. “I think we’re all playing well, so that helps.”
Max Pacioretty scored for the Canadiens (5-7-2), who have lost two in a row and have scored one or fewer goals in six of their defeats.
Pacioretty’s team-leading sixth of the season came 22 seconds after Gilbert put Edmonton ahead 2-0 at 16:28 of the third period. The big winger swept in on the right side and saw his backhander go off Gilbert’s stick, change speed and fool Khabibulin between the pads.
That brought the Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 to life after seeing the home team checked tightly by the speedy Oilers and thwarted time and again by the big Russian goaltender. But Smyth ended the threat with an empty-net goal with 43 seconds to play.
“We had a lot of opportunities to score, but Khabibulin played well and we weren’t able to cash in on a lot of really good opportunities,” said Erik Cole, who was Montreal’s best forward on the night with five shots on goal and a strong physical effort throughout the game. “It could have been a much different games if we could have cashed in on a couple.”
Montreal coach Jacques Martin felt his team played well enough to win, generating 17 scoring chances, but fell victim to a hot goalie and some bad luck. Michael Cammalleri hit two goalposts, while Edmonton had Gilbert’s harmless looking shot go in off defenceman Josh Gorges.
“They have the best goals-against in the league,” Martin said of the Oilers. “They’re a good team with a lot of speed and talent, but we dominated them in scoring chances. You’re disappointed with the score, but it wasn’t a lack of effort or execution.”
A key was special teams, as aggressive Edmonton penalty killing left the Canadiens 0-for-6 on the night and also produced the game’s first goal.
Jones picked off a Tomas Plekanec pass at the Montreal blue-line and went in alone to put a deke on Carey Price and slide in his third of the season short handed 4:38 into the second frame.
Smyth’s goal was his fifth in five games and gave him the team lead with seven, one more than rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“It’s just nice to chip in offensively and feel a part of it,” said Smyth. “I’ve said this many times, being around young kids really pushes you and with the experience I’ve gained over the years I want to push them too.
“It’s a two-way street and it’s been going good. It’s just a matter of putting up wins now.”
Edmonton’s marquee line of No. 1 draft picks Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins with Jordan Eberle were matched against Montreal’s top defence pair and a strong defensive line and had few scoring chances, but neither did they give Plekanec’s line much room.
The Canadiens move on for road games in Phoenix and Nashville this week, while the Oilers continue a six-game trip to three more Original Six cities in Boston, Detroit and Chicago.
Notes—Andrei Kostitsyn sat out for Montreal with a lower-body injury. Yannick Weber moved up to play forward and Alexei Emelin returned to the lineup. . . The Oilers had Ales Hemsky and Cam Barker back from shoulder injuries, bumping Colten Teubert and Magnus Paajarvi to the pressbox. Hemsky saw 17:08 of ice time and picked up an assist.