After starting the season on long-term injured reserve and missing the first month of action, Mike Smith wanted to make sure he was well prepared when he finally returned to the Edmonton Oilers crease.
So far so good for the veteran netminder, who picked up a shutout in just his second start of the campaign.
Smith made 38 stops as the Oilers beat the suddenly struggling Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday. The 38-year-old picked up the 40th shutout of his career, and his first against Montreal.
Smith is now 2-0 on the season after posting a 3-1 win over Ottawa in his season debut Monday.
“You want to come back and not feel like you’ve missed a beat,” Smith said. “Obviously the first two games have gone really well for me, I felt like I was prepared for these games. When you feel like you’re prepared, usually things go your way.”
Jujhar Khaira, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie scored for Edmonton (9-7-0), which won its third straight game – and six of its last seven – and finished 3-1 on its four-game road trip.
Montreal goaltender Jake Allen made 28 saves, many of them difficult, in a losing cause.
The Canadiens (8-4-2) have three losses, all coming at home, over their last four games. One of the most offensively potent teams at the start of the season, the Habs have managed just six goals over that span.
“Our game has gone down a notch,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said. “Our quick transition isn’t quite there.
“You don’t want to panic, you want to do the little things right, and the little things right eventually play in your favour. Right now there’s a bit of frustration that’s really hurting us more than it’s helping us.”
Edmonton was 1-for-3 on the power play, while Montreal was 0-for-1.
The Canadiens applied more of the offensive pressure early in the game – including a Nick Suzuki breakaway that Smith stopped – but the Oilers struck first when Khaira scored 11:13 into the first period.
Khaira picked up a pass from Josh Archibald through the feet of Jeff Petry and beat Allen.
Khaira, who was waived and sent to the team’s taxi squad at the start of the season, now has five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.
“JJ, he’s a powerful man,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s strong on the puck, he’s really good down low in our zone, and it’s nice to see him get rewarded with a goal with the work he’s putting in.”
Khaira’s goal seemed to energize the Oilers, who had several good chances to increase their lead. Allen made big saves on Alex Chaisson and Kyle Turris, while Barrie rang a shot off the post.
Nurse was credited with his sixth goal of the season 1:27 into the second period. Allen saved the defenceman’s initial shot, but Montreal captain Shea Weber inadvertently put the puck in the net when his clearing attempt deflected off teammate Phillip Danault.
“There’s been puck luck going the other way, so it’s nice to see you get back a few of those,” Tippett said.
Barrie made it 3-0 when he ripped a shot past Allen from the blue line with the Oilers on a power play at 4:44 of the third period.
Edmonton was coming off a 3-2 win at Ottawa on Tuesday in which superstar forwards McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were held off the scoresheet for the first time in 11 games. McDavid was held scoreless again, while Draisaitl picked up an assist on Barrie’s goal.
There was a scary moment in the second period when Montreal forward Paul Byron was hit in the head by a slapshot from Habs defenceman Joel Edmundson. Byron went to the Canadiens dressing room but returned to the game shortly after.
The opening face off was pushed back an hour after Edmonton forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.
A player on the protocol list does not necessarily have COVID-19. The NHL has postponed 35 games so far this season, but none yet in the all-Canadian North Division.
“It’s been going on for a while, between the bubble and coming into the season,” Tippett said of COVID-19′s affect on the NHL. “It’s part of our world now so you almost get numb to it.
“It’s part of what we’re dealing with not just in hockey, but as a world right now, so it becomes less of a factor. You do what you have to do, follow the protocols and go about your business.”
The Oilers are off until Monday, when they will play the first of two home dates with Winnipeg.
The Canadiens will face the NHL-leading Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday.
NOTES: Nurse’s sixth goal moved him into a tie with Petry for the league lead among defenceman. … The Oilers lead the league with 13 goals from defencemen. … The last time McDavid was held pointless in back-to-back games was Dec. 18 and Dec. 20, 2019.