If you believe finding ways to win instead of ways to lose is a sign of progress along the learning curve as opposed to a run of good luck or happenstance, the Edmonton Oilers are moving along rather nicely, thanks very much.
The Oilers won another game they might have found a way to lose just a season or two ago against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Center in the third stop of a six-game road swing on Tuesday, packing their bags for Boston with a 3-1 win in the books.
Tom Renney’s team was outshot 29-14, didn’t get anything done on a couple of power plays and didn’t manage much resembling a consistent attack, but head for Beantown with a 9-3-2 record thanks to 28 saves by Nikolai Khabibulin and a penalty kill that stiffed the Habs on six tries.
As the old saying goes, they don’t ask how, just how many, and the Oilers continue to pick up wins despite less-than-complete efforts. After back-to-back 30th-place finishes and some decent efforts ending in defeat along the way, I’m guessing Oilers fans won’t quibble.
PAINTING BY NUMBERS
As former coach Edmonton Craig MacTavish used to say, "They can’t all be Picassos," and the win over the Canadiens certainly qualified more as paint-by-numbers than a masterpiece. So it goes.
"I’m glad Khabby found the rink, at least, tonight because that’s good. It took the other guys a little while to get here," Renney told reporters after his goaltender pinched a pair. "He was very, very good when he needed to be, which was pretty much start to finish.
"Our penalty kill was good. It needed to be. We had a third period that showed a little bit more commitment to the little things, and it needed to be in order to win the hockey game.
"We spent too much time in the penalty box. Didn’t think the game very well. I guess it’s safe to say we stole one, but that happens now and then. The thing about our team is we find ways to do things and get points and that is a testimony to a team growing up."
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
Khabibulin continues to SIUTBOHC. The 38-year-old puckstopper is now 7-0-2 with a 0.98 goals-against average and a .964 saves percentage and has been a wall in the crease — the Oilers have allowed one goal or less in nine of their 14 games.
That said, Khabibulin probably should have squeezed the pads on the only goal he did allow, a backhand by Max Pacioretty. It’s the kind of goal that might have sent the Oilers into a flaming tailspin not long ago.
Right now, it’s goaltending and the penalty kill that’s getting it done for the Oilers. Ryan Jones opened the scoring shorthanded and the PK unit did the rest as Tom Gilbert beat Carey Price to make it 2-0 before Ryan Smyth hit an empty net.
You can find all kinds of numbers to show the Oilers are flirting with defeat if you’re so inclined, but so far they’re thumbing their noses at doubters on the scoreboard, where it matters most.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.