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Edmonton Oilers lose goaltenders' duel in a shootout to Jets

Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (right) is pursued by Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman during NHL action in Winnipeg on Sun., Oct. 20, 2019. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (right) is pursued by Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman during NHL action in Winnipeg on Sun., Oct. 20, 2019. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

WINNIPEG — If goaltending was one of the large question marks coming into this Edmonton Oilers season, the net presence of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen has been awfully noticeable … in a very big way.

While Koskinen’s shaky glove hand was a rallying cry of fans off last year’s play and Smith’s ability at his age seemed a tad debatable at 37, the skyscraper goalies have been the exclamation point of the first month as much as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and James Neal have created the offensive stir.

Smith, in his 23rd career game against the Jets, got the call Sunday over Koskinen, who had stopped 84 of 88 shots in his previous two starts against the Flyers and Detroit.

Smith only had 23 shots but made a series of 10-bell stops many in high traffic in the 1-0 shoot-out loss as Kyle Connor and Patrick Laine scored and McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were stopped by Connor Hellebucyk.

“That was an old-fashioned Western Conference muck-fest, get the point and get outta here,” shrugged Oilers defenceman Darnel Nurse, who got no argument from Smith.

“Both teams were fighting for air out there,” said Smith, who only had to make two saves in the first 20 minutes but finished with 23 over 65 minutes before Connor beat him with a deke and Laine with a bullet.

“Kind of an ugly game, mucky out there. But whatever’s happening with our group, we stick with the game. The overtime? That’s what three-on-three hockey does when you’ve got the best players in the world out there. It’s exciting for you guys, not so much for goalies,” said Smith, who robbed Mark Scheifele and watched as Draisaitl and McDavid had two two-on-ones and McDavid a breakaway but couldn’t score.

“If you’re going to have success in this league, you need goalies who can stand on their head sometimes and competition is a really, really good thing,” said Oscar Klefbom. “We got one point tonight because of Smitty. I mean we played a solid game but some nights you can’t find a way to score a goal.”

“Our goaltending? The strength of our team, I think. If you knew the two guys who are back there I don’t think you’d be so surprised. How hard they compete. How they prepare for games and practices. Two guys who are hungry to be exceptional each and every night,” said Nurse. “Two different personalities, but they have the same ‘Let’s get better’ mentality. And they push each other. Yeah, they’re different personality-wise. But their preparation, how they compete, that’s something they have in common.”

While the Oilers got a point to run their record to 7-1-1, Leon Draisaitl didn’t get one and his eight-game point streak from the start of the season ended—two games short of Sam Gagner’s 10 in 2013.

VIDEO COACH EARNING HIS MONEY

Oilers video coach Jeremy Coupal caught Mark Scheifele going over the blue line a shade ahead of Laine on film just before Jets defenceman Carl Dahlstrom whistled a 25-footer past Smith midway through the third. He was celebrating his first-ever goal until they called it back after coach Dave Tippett challenged it.

“He knew right away and Gully (assistant Glen Gultzan) reached over to me and said it was offside. I wanted to have a look at it myself and you could see it was clearly offside. Those video guys have a lot of pressure on them and there’s lots to look at,” said Tippett.

AN OVERTIME CHEERLEADER

Klefbom loves OT, even though he played about 70 per cent of it, along with his power play (3:40) and penalty-killing (4:22) to go with his even-strength.

“It’s the most fun you can have especially playing with Connor and Leon. I mean, with the power play and penalty kill you’re doing lots of skating but you have that adrenalin going,” said the Oilers defenceman.

SOME RAREFIED COMPANY FOR MAURICE

Jets coach Paul Maurice went into the Oilers game, one win from 700. He’s third in active wins behind Joel Quenneville (893) and Barry Trotz (815). Only six other coaches have hit 700 (Scotty Bowman, Quenneville, Al Arbour, Ken Hitchcock, Trotz and Lindy Ruff). Maurice has coached 1,539 NHL games, sixth most.

Maurice started coaching in Hartford in 1995 when he was 28. Only Gary Green, who was 26 when he took over Washington Capitals in 1979, has ever been a younger NHL head coach.

OUTSIDE OPINION ON EARLY OILERS

Maurice has seen a different Oiler team under Tippett. “What’s different about the Oilers now is that there is structure in their game that allows them to survive the moments in a game when the other team’s not making a bunch of mistakes. That team is not throwing pucks into the middle, or getting the third guy caught in the offensive zone. They can survive,” said Maurice.

This ’n that: Josh Archibald made a terrific shot block on a third-period Jets’ power play and got a round of high-fives on the Oiler bench … Kyle Connor’s sole role on the PK for the Jets was to stick as close to McDavid as possible. He did a good job … Former U of Alberta Golden Bears centre Travis Toomey, part of two national titles, worked the lines for the game. The 29-year-old from Leduc is in his first NHL season.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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