Benoit Pouliot scored the game-winning goal 2:52 left in the third period as the Oilers earned a 3-1 split-squad victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday night at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Pouliot converted on a beautiful two-on-one pass from Jordan Eberle to break a 1-1 tie and give the visitors the win. The clutch play late in the game completed the split-squad sweep for the Oil, who wrapped up a 4-2 victory over the Flames in Edmonton just a few minutes prior.
“We liked our group,” said Oilers Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft, who was manning the bench in Calgary while Todd McLellan guided the troops in Edmonton. “All 20 players contributed to the win. We liked our back end, we liked our goaltending and we had some real quality shifts from all four lines.”
“Overall, we worked extremely hard,” added Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “It was a battle pretty much the whole game. In a game like this, first preseason game, it was a little bit scrambly to start. I thought, as the game went on, we did a good job of calming that down and sticking to our systems, and it paid off for us in the end.”
There were far more penalties than points in the opening frame, with each team logging six minutes in the sin bin. The Oilers had the best chance to score on the PP following a high-sticking double-minor to new Calgary blueliner Dougie Hamilton, but they were unable to solve Jonas Hiller during the four-minute man advantage.
Edmonton’s best chance of the opening frame came on a three-on-one rush with Nugent-Hopkins setting up Phil McRae, but the PTO camp invite flicked his wrist shot just over the net.
The penalties continued in the middle frame, but the goals also followed as Calgary broke the goose egg on the PP 6:07 into the period. Johnny Gaudreau burst down the right wing and sent a cross-ice pass to Michal Frolik, who flicked a high wrist shot past Ben Scrivens to make it 1-0. Scrivens was replaced by Anders Nilsson midway through the second after turning aside 12 of 13 shots.
The Oilers replied just 48 seconds later, however, as new addition Mark Letestu got several whacks at a loose puck from the side of the net, eventually sneaking it past Hiller to even the score. Linemates Matt Hendricks and Lauri Korpikoski were also swarming the crease on the play, earning the assists in the process.
“To see that line burrow and poke away in the blue paint for not one or two but three chances, that was a big goal for our team,” Woodcroft said.
The Battle of Alberta was personified by Darnell Nurse and Hunter Smith 12:14 into the middle frame, as the 6-foot-7 Flame tracked down the Oilers blueliner and they dropped the gloves for a spirited scrap. After about 30 seconds of clutching and grabbing, both combatants got their fists free and landed a few shots, with Smith retreating to the locker room to have a cut on his face repaired.
Nilsson was in a groove between the Oilers pipes late in the middle frame, denying Frolik on a penalty shot and making a few other point-blank saves. The off-season acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks, who starred in the KHL in 2014-15, finished his appearance with 17 saves as he battles to earn a spot in net with the NHL club.
“It was a huge turning point in the game for us,” Woodcroft said of the penalty shot save. “To have him not only make the save on the breakaway but also on the penalty shot, that was a big thing for our group. It emboldened us for the rest of the game.”
“It felt great to play and put on the Oilers jersey – I’ve been waiting for that all summer,” Nilsson added. “I felt calm and felt I was tracking the puck really well. I felt in control and the guys helped me out a lot and made it easy for me.”
After Pouliot put the Oilers up by one, Justin Schultz chipped in with an empty-netter to seal the deal.
The Oilers preseason schedule continues Wednesday night at Rexall Place as they host the Winnipeg Jets before hitting the road for back-to-back games against the Jets on Friday and Minnesota Wild on Saturday in Saskatoon.