You don't have to look any farther than Nikolai Khabibulin to figure out how the Edmonton Oilers are off to their best start in years.
Khabibulin outdueled Jonathan Quick in posting his second shutout this season, and Lennart Petrell scored his first NHL goal as the Oilers beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 on Thursday night for their sixth straight win.
Ryan Smyth and Corey Potter also scored for the Oilers (8-2-2), who have won eight of their first 12 for the first time since the 1986-87 season when Edmonton won the third of its five Stanley Cup titles in seven years.
Last season, the Oilers didn't earn their eighth victory until their 24th game. After a 4-4-10 start, Edmonton went on to finish last in the NHL (25-45-12) for the second straight season.
"The difference I see on a daily basis is the dig-in for each other," Smyth said. "We're relentless for each other.
"The team dug in and played a gritty game. Obviously, Khabby played excellent and shut the door."
Khabibulin (6-0-2), a four-time all-star who went 10-32-4 with a 3.40 goals-against average last season after back surgery, lowered his NHL-leading GAA to 0.98 with his 45th career shutout.
"I definitely feel a lot better," Khabibulin said. "After the surgery last year I was sore and achy, and I thought that was the way I was supposed to feel. But a year away from last September, I feel so much better now overall and that's helping a lot."
Khabibulin faced 19 shots while blanking the Kings for the seventh time in the opener of a six-game trip. His teammates blocked 22 shots in front of him.
"We played a perfect road game," he said. "We kept everything to the outside and were able to score the goals when we needed them. We didn't give them much, and blocked quite a few shots, too, especially on the penalty-kill, and limited their second and third chances."
Quick, who came in with a second-best 1.52 GAA, made 24 saves.
7th goal for Smyth
The Oilers took a 1-0 lead at 11:26 of the second when Smyth attempted a centring pass from behind the net and the puck deflected off the stick of defenceman Alec Martinez before fluttering over Quick's right shoulder.
It was the seventh goal for Smyth, who returned to the Oilers in June when the Kings traded him. He has scored 30 goals four times — all with the Oilers. He netted 45 during his two seasons with Los Angeles.
"With all due respect to L.A. and Ryan's time here, which was great, he's an Oiler," coach Tom Renney said. "He loves Edmonton and he loves the people of Edmonton and he loved his tenure there previous to this. But he has nothing but great respect for the L.A. Kings and the organization and what they were able to do for him.
"At the end of the day, he's an Oiler and he's a leader because of that. He means an awful lot to us."
Petrell, a 27-year-old centre playing in his 11th NHL game, made it 2-0 with 2:22 of the second. Ben Eager shook off a check by Justin Williams along the end boards, carried the puck in front and was stopped by Quick before Petrell converted the rebound. Quick argued with the referees that Petrell made contact with him before the puck entered the net.
"We don't win this game if we don't pay attention to the little things," Renney said. "In the first period, we turned the puck over just enough to make it scary. That's a good team on the other side and they attack well. And if you give them a chance to transition, they're going to sting you.
"We managed the puck better as the game went on, stuck with our game plan and didn't deviate."
The Oilers scored again when Sam Gagner jumped on a turnover by Anze Kopitar in the neutral zone, carried the puck into the Kings' end and circled the net before flipping the puck in front. Defenceman Willie Mitchell got his stick on the centring pass, but Potter put it past Quick at 1:06 of the third.
"They dominated pretty much every aspect of the game," Kings captain Dustin Brown. "It's something we need to correct pretty quickly. The first thing we have to do is work. It doesn't matter what type of team you have, if you don't have hard work you're not going to do anything."