EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers appear to have shored up their defence under new head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Mikko Koskinen made 24 saves to record his third shutout of the season as the Oilers won a tight battle between a pair of hot teams, defeating the Calgary Flames 1-0 on Sunday.
“It takes a lot of effort to play good defence, especially against a team like that that has so many skilled, offensive players,” said Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson.
“I think we’re playing a little tighter, and it’s easier to close the games. Even when we were up two goals in the beginning of the season, we would tend to give up chances still, even when we tried to close games out. I don’t feel like we’re doing that now.”
Connor McDavid scored the game’s lone goal for the Oilers (16-12-2), who have won three straight and have gone 6-1-0 in their last seven games.
“I like how we stayed with it when we got an early lead. We didn’t try to flex out. We got quality chances in the first period from playing the right way,” said Hitchcock, who owns a 7-2-1 record since taking over the coaching reins from Todd McLellan.
“I like the way we protected the lead in the third period, especially. That to me is where we’re learning how to play as a unit of five, not spread out. That’s a good sign.”
The Flames (19-10-2) had a five-game winning streak snapped, but are 9-2-1 in their last 12 outings.
“I’m not happy with the result, but I am happy with our weekend,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters, whose team defeated Nashville 5-2 on Saturday. “It just looked like we were running on fumes a little bit tonight.”
David Rittich made 29 saves in a losing effort for Calgary.
“It’s always the worse kind of loss, a 1-0 game,” said Rittich. “We didn’t play our game. We just need to be better than that.”
Edmonton got the game going 12 minutes into the opening period with some nice passing by the top line, which was finished off when Alex Chiasson fed it to McDavid at the side of the net and the Oilers captain sent his 16th of the season past Rittich.
The Oilers came out of the gate flying in the second, but Rittich made huge breakaway saves on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl.
Calgary looked to have tied it up midway through the middle period, but Anthony Peluso — who was recalled earlier in the day from the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat — was flagged with goaltender interference on Koskinen after the video review.
McDavid came close to adding another one on the power play with four minutes left in the third, but rang his shot off the crossbar.
Calgary poured on the pressure at the end, but Edmonton was able to hang on.
The Oilers begin a two-game trip in Colorado on Tuesday. The Flames make a one-game trip back home to play Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Notes: It was the second of four meetings between the Alberta rivals with Calgary scoring three third-period goals in a come-from-behind 4-2 victory on Nov. 17… The Flames were without a couple of key players as forward Mikael Backlund is out with a concussion, while defenceman Mark Giordano was serving part of a two-game suspension for kneeing Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu.