EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers may have stumbled out of the gate to start the season, but they seem to have hit their stride now.
Ben Scrivens made 29 saves and Benoit Pouliot had a goal and an assist as the Oilers continued to turn their season around with a 3-0 victory over the league-leading Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
Nail Yakupov and Taylor Hall also scored for the Oilers (4-4-1) who have won four in a row to erase a 0-4-1 start to the season, their worst in franchise history.
“It’s feels good,’’ said Yakuopov of Edmonton’s reversal of fortune. “I think it’s the best moment I’ve had with the team in the last three years. It’s a really good feeling when the team is winning, especially here at Rexall Place with our fans.
“Overall, it was a good game, it was really tight. That’s a good team, they are really hard to play against. We can see why they made it to the Conference final last season.’’
Head coach Dallas Eakins said it is important the Oilers stay grounded despite their recent success.
“For us it’s about today, getting better today. It’s about today, what can we improve on, what can we continue to do well,’’ he said. “That’s what it’s about, we want to stay with that process mindset. That way you never get too high if you won some games in a row. You’ll actually start forgetting, you enjoy it tonight and when you come in tomorrow, it’s about the next game. That way you don’t get too low if you’re not getting the wins either.’’
Dustin Tokarski stopped 16-of-18 shots for the Canadiens (7-2-0), who had a four-game winning streak come to an end.
“I didn’t like what I saw today,’’ said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban. “We had some key opportunities that we didn’t bury. For us to wait until the third period to start playing the way we want to play is to late. We’re not that good. We are good when we are playing the right way. We are an average team at best when we don’t play the right way.
“We have played a lot of good hockey of late and this is not time to panic, but we have to play the same way every game and I don’t think we played the way that has gotten us so much success early in the season.’’
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said that while his team was a bit off on the night, the Oilers deserved some credit as well.
“We spent a lot of time in the offensive zone,’’ said Therrien. “We were just having a hard time generating offence. The Oilers blocked a lot of shots tonight, you have to give them credit. Their goalie made some key saves too. It’s a fine line between winning and losing.’’
Montreal came very close to starting the scoring in an up-tempo first period. With five minutes remaining in the period, the Canadiens had a flurry of shots before Max Pacioretty blasted a shot into the net from the high slot. However, the goal was disallowed after it was determined that Brendan Gallagher had interfered with Scrivens after bowling him over in the crease seconds earlier.
Edmonton went up 1-0 with just 18 seconds left in the first as Mark Arcobello raced to a loose puck to create a two-on-one and fed a nice pass to Pouliout, who deked and beat Tokarski with a backhand for his first goal with the Oilers.
Edmonton forward Matt Hendricks left the game late in the first after being run head-first into the boards by Montreal defender P.K. Subban, but returned early in the second period.
Yakupov gave the Oilers a two-goal lead six-and-a-half minutes into the second period as a shot came off the boards to Pouliot at the side of the net. He sent it through the crease to Yakupov, who scored his second of the season.
The shots were 17-12 in Montreal’s favour through 40 minutes.
Montreal continued to pepper the Edmonton goal, but the Oilers had the best opportunity in the first half of the third period as Justin Schultz crashed the net on a power-play scramble. Habs defender Travis Moen was able to help his goalie out and sweep away what would likely have been a goal.
The Canadiens pulled Tokarski for an extra attacker with three minutes left and it gave the Oilers the insurance they needed as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sprung Hall for an empty-net goal.
Scrivens was solid all evening, earning his seventh career shutout.
The Oilers goalie said the shutout was truly a team effort, with his teammates committed to doing whatever it took to preserve the win by throwing their bodies in front of pucks.
“It’s a huge testament to those guys, they’re fearless out there,’’ he said. “It’s kind of crazy, I have all the gear, it kind of makes sense for me to block shots, but those guys are laying themselves on the line and putting themselves in danger and we have to respond to that. You can’t talk about this win without mentioning those big blocked shots in the second and third.’’
The Canadiens play the second game of a Western Canadian road trip on Tuesday in Calgary. Edmonton plays the sixth game of a season-high seven-game homestand on Wednesday against Nashville.