EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers are improving — but they’re still struggling with defensive lapses.
Ben Scrivens made 32 stops as the Oilers won their second game in a row, handing the Capitals their first loss in regulation this season with a 3-2 victory over Washington on Wednesday.
Scrivens faced 13 shots in the third alone, safeguarding Edmonton’s narrow one-goal lead in the scoreless period.
“I will say that’s not how we want to play in the third period,’’ said Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins. “We started backing up and we don’t want to do that as a group. We’ll get better at that for sure. Even though we ended up in our zone a lot, we were able to cover off that bad area. that red zone, and when Ben needed to, he was there for us, he was excellent.
“They’re maturing, they’re getting some gamesmanship. It’s not like there is a big fire drill going on anymore.’’
Defenceman Justin Schultz agreed with his coach, but put an emphasis on Edmonton’s progress from game to game.
“We’re improving each game and we’re definitely trying to clean that up, not be running around and leaving guys open. It’s been working for us in the last few games,’’ said Schultz, who added that Scrivens was a game saver. “When he plays like that, he always gives us a chance. It wasn’t our best effort for us out there, but we found a way to win.’’
Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nikita Nikitin scored for the Oilers (2-4-1), who had avoided setting a new franchise record for the worst start to the season with a win over Tampa Bay on Monday. Teddy Purcell picked up a pair of assists for Edmonton.
John Carlson and Mike Green replied for the Capitals (3-1-2), who saw a two-game winning streak snapped.
“For the last two periods we played great,’’ said Washington forward Marcus Johansson.
“We had enough chances to score, we just didn’t bury them. It is the small details that can cost you a game and tonight it did. It was a tough one to lose, but that’s hockey sometimes.
“We played well, we just didn’t execute and it cost us too much.’’
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby shouldered part of the blame.
“We did a lot of good things, we just didn’t seem to be able to get a bounce,’’ he said. “Our team played well enough to get a win. In the end, they won a goaltending battle. Their second goal had no business going in and that was the difference in the game.’’
The Oilers started the scoring seven minutes into the opening period as Purcell made a nice backhand pass from the corner to a pinching Schultz in front, and he beat Holtby for his second goal in as many games.
Washington tied the game 1-1 midway through the first on the power play as the Capitals caught Edmonton running around, allowing Carlson to move in tight from the point and beat Scrivens with a bullet of a shot.
The Caps’ next power play with two minutes left in the first was equally dangerous, but Scrivens came up with a huge save in tight on Green to keep the game tied. Edmonton outshot Washington 11-10 through the first 20 minutes.
Green’s wrist shot from the slot five minutes into the second period gave Washington a 2-1 lead.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Nugent-Hopkins picked off an Alex Ovechkin pass and blazed into the Washington zone, scoring just 20 seconds after the Capitals surged ahead.
Edmonton regained the lead with four minutes left in the second period as a clumsy power play suddenly connected as Purcell tapped a puck back to the point and Nikitin scored his first as an Oiler on a point shot through traffic.
Washington came out flying in the third, but Scrivens stood tall, stopping Ovechkin after he walked around Schultz for a great opportunity.
Scrivens almost single-handedly preserved the win as the Capitals buzzed the Edmonton net, outshooting them 12-1 halfway through the third, but the Oilers held on for the victory.
The Oilers play the fourth game of a season-high seven-game homestand on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals continue their three-game road trip on Saturday, when they play the second match-up in Calgary against the Flames.
There was a moment of silence before the game in recognition of the shootings in Ottawa earlier in the day, as well as the attack in Quebec earlier this week. A sombre crowd loudly sang the Canadian national anthem.