WINNIPEG, MB - Any worries of overcoming the distractions of playing in an outdoor game were erased by a three-goal second period and shut-down goaltending by Cam Talbot, as the Oilers spoiled the Jets 2016 Heritage Classic hopes with a 3-0 victory.
Edmonton's next game is at home against the Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m MT. The game can be seen on Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers. It can also be heard on 630 CHED and the Oilers Radio Network.
"They had some really good chances off the start, some odd-man rushes," said Oilers winger Milan Lucic. "We gave them some grade-A scoring chances that Cam came up and made some huge saves for us to keep it 0-0 after one. Then us being able to pounce on a few chances in the second, we were able to feel confident about our game going into the third. Just getting everyone back on the backcheck and taking time and space away. There's no magical formula. It's just working hard and it paid off for us tonight."
There may not be a magical formula, but the magic of outdoor NHL hockey was on display in Winnipeg. The 33,240 fans in attendance at Investors Group Field waited patiently as the game was delayed nearly two hours due to intermittent sunlight on the playing surface. At puck drop, the temperature was a comfortable 10 degrees celsius with partly cloudy skies above on a beautiful Manitoba afternoon.
The hockey in the first period lacked offence, with the teams exiting after the opening 20 minutes of play locked in a scoreless affair.
Jets rookie star Patrik Laine had a nice opportunity at 7:53 but could not bury the odd-man rush opportunity.
Nikolaj Ehlers had a prime opportunity to open the scoring at 17:21 of the first, but he fanned on a set-up in the slot. The Jets led the Oilers in shots with 10 to the visitors' eight.
In the second, the Oilers potted two goals 1:46 apart to break open the scoring and put the pressure on the home team.
At 9:02 of the period, Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse went to the box for a cross-checking penalty to give the Jets a man advantage. That was when the Oilers took a 1-0 lead. Mark Letestu capitalized on a turnover, picking the puck up at the Edmonton blueline. The Oilers forward sniped a shot on a breakaway for his second shorthanded tally of the season.
The Oilers increased their lead to two when Nurse jumped out of the box and skated down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush with Connor McDavid. The Oilers captain set up Nurse for a one-timer as the defenceman went down to one knee. Nurse buried it for his first goal of the season.
"He hits everybody on the tape, it seems like… he made a great play," said Nurse of McDavid's helper.
Zack Kassian recorded the second assist on Nurse's goal. The tally was not only Nurse's first, but also the first by an Oilers defenceman this season.
With 2:44 remaining in the second period, Kassian put Edmonton up 3-0 over the Jets. Benoit Pouliot, who is now tied for second-most regular season outdoor games played in his career with four, set up Kassian right on the stick tape with a behind-the-back pass. Kassian's goal was his second of the season.
As the sun began to fade, so did the Jets hopes at a happy Heritage Classic ending. Talbot turned away Winnipeg's power-play advances in the final minute of the middle frame to keep the Oil ahead three heading into the final 20 minutes of play.
"Any time you go into the third with the lead, I think in some ways it's a challenge," said Nurse. "If you're going in there down by three, you've got nothing to lose. You're going to do whatever you can. But when you're playing with a lead, other teams might sit back. But for us, we just went out there, played hard and stuck to our game plan. It says a lot about our preparation and how jacked up we are to go out there and play."
Despite the Jets pulling Connor Hellebuyck for the extra attacker with roughly five minutes to go in the game, the home team was unable to break Talbot. The Oilers goaltender finished the game with a 31-save shutout. In his last three starts, Talbot has stopped 96 of 99 shots he's faced, for three wins and .970 save percentage.
"Every night he's making huge saves for us, especially today in the first period," said Nurse. "He made a few big ones off odd-man rushes and kept us in the game, giving us an opportunity to come out in the second and really take over the scoreboard. Then, coming down the stretch, he made some big saves. He's been big for us the last three games but every night he comes out and he gives an honest effort. It definitely gives us a lot of confidence playing in front of him."
The Oilers (5-1-0) now return home to host the Washington Capitals on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. MT, at Rogers Place. This is the first Oilers team to start a season 5-1-0 since 1985-86. At the conclusion of their game against the Jets, Edmonton stood alone at the top of the NHL standings with 10 points.