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FEATURE: Tools for success

The Oilers were able to fall back on strong goaltending, penalty-killing and defensive stability on a night when the offence couldn't click in Winnipeg

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Offence. Defence. Goaltending. Special teams.

At their very best, it's a sure-fire formula for any team succeeding. But even on their own, they have the capability of winning you hockey games.

The offence and excitement was there for the Oilers despite the lack of a finished product in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, but the game never escaped them when other areas picked up the slack.

Goaltender Mike Smith matched his counterpart Connor Hellebuyck shot-for-shot in the opposing crease, nearly singlehandedly earning the full two points for the Oilers by making all 23 stops and getting credit for the shutout before being beaten twice in the shootout by Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine.

"It was a hard game. It was kind of a playoff-like atmosphere," Smith said following the Oilers optional skate at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Monday. "There wasn't a lot of room out there. You've got to give credit to Winnipeg too. They did a good job of clogging things up and not giving us a lot of real good looks. We had some chances, but they didn't go in last night for us."

Video: RAW | Mike Smith 10.21.19

The game goes down as a one-goal game, but the netminder alluded to the positive peripherals.

"I thought we did a lot of good really good things and played a real tight game and got a big point," Smith continued. "I think you've got to look at the positives in a game like that, and hopefully we can keep things going."

Another positive? The Oilers penalty kill remained solid, going 4-for-4 on the night to improve to 15-for-15 on the road and fourth overall in the NHL (90.3 percent) this season with a number of big-time stops in front of its netminder during the game's critical moments.

"I think the penalty kill speaks for itself," Smith said. "I think guys are putting their bodies on the line and getting good blocks out there. I think we had five or six in the first period and guys were willing to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net.

"Obviously I appreciate that as a goalie, and it's showing because penalty kill's been a big part of our game to start this season."

Smith's puck-playing ability is also contributing to early success for an Oilers defence that's allowed 20 goals against in nine contests this season - a total that's tied for the sixth-best in the league after Head Coach Dave Tippett preached reducing goals against in Training Camp and Pre-Season.

Video: RAW | Ethan Bear 10.21.19

Rookie blueliner Ethan Bear has contributed largely to that success after stepping into the role alongside Darnell Nurse that's been vacated by Adam Larsson due to injury, playing logging big minutes that hit another new career-high of 25:32 against the Jets and included 3-on-3 opportunities in overtime.

"When you can't find ways to score in a game, you have to find a way to defend," Bear said. "I know in Winnipeg, they had a really good power play and we did a really good job. Everyone's buying in working for each other, and at the same time working hard and smart to get the job done."

Even when the forwards are failing to find the back of the net, the blueliners are more than able to satisfy that criterion. Bear nearly notched his third goal in three games with 1:36 on the clock in the first period on an open look from the slot that could've spelt out a different story to Sunday's contest.

"The kid's been really good. He's gotten better every single game he's been in," Smith said of the young blueliner.

"He's improved and I think he's getting comfortable with the tempo and the speed of the play. He's making really good reads, really good plays with the puck, and he's a really good skater and has a knack for walking the line in the offensive zone too. I think all those things have helped him be a really good player for us."

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