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Coyotes goalie Smith returns against Oilers

Edmonton center Nugent-Hopkins back after missing 23 games

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Correspondent

COYOTES (29-32-7) at OILERS (27-36-7)

TV: 10 p.m. ET; SN, FS-A+, NHL.TV

EDMONTON -- Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith will make his first start since Dec. 8 against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Saturday.

Smith had been out of the Coyotes lineup since having surgery to repair an abdominal injury in December.

The Coyotes are 2-0-1 against the Oilers this season. Smith made 28 saves in a 4-1 win against the Oilers on Nov. 12 at Gila River Arena. He missed 40 games because of his injury. Smith was not made available to the media Saturday morning.

"He has to get out there and make sure he can do the things he's capable of doing," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "I talked to him after the game [Friday] night (4-1 win at the Calgary Flames) and asked him if it was time and he said he'd like to give it a try, and that's where we are."

Smith is 10-9-1 with a 3.06 goals against average and a .901 save percentage in 22 games. 

"He's obviously a huge part of our team," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "The success we've had as a group in the past years are all due to him, so it's good to have him back."

Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be back in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 18. Nugent-Hopkins missed 23 games after breaking a bone in his hand blocking a shot in a 4-2 win at the Florida Panthers.

"It's definitely good to get back," Nugent-Hopkins said. "No injury is fun to rehab, especially when it's a long one like mine was. I get the chance to get back out there tonight. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Nugent-Hopkins, 22, was the first pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. He has eight goals and 30 points in 46 games. 

"He means a lot to our team, he's a very important player and we're excited about having him back," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "He plays in all situations, can be an offensive catalyst, can check, can do a whole bunch of things for our team.

"He hasn't played in two months and hasn't been able to handle the puck a lot in his injured time, so we don't expect him to be a savior, but we're excited to have him back."

Nugent-Hopkins' return will provide depth at center for the Oilers behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
For the first time this season, the Oilers will have Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid and right wing Jordan Eberle in the lineup at the same time. 

"I think it's good, I think it definitely spreads out the lineup," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Myself, I know I have to be a two-way guy that can produce as much offensively as I can and be responsible defensively too. It's good that we have some depth up front now and we have to find a way to keep producing and it should be fun down the stretch."

Here are the projected lineups:

COYOTES

Alex Tanguay - Antoine Vermette - Anthony Duclair
 
Tobias Rieder - Martin Hanzal - Viktor Tikhonov
 
Max Domi - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan
 
Jordan Martinook - Boyd Gordon - Sergei Plotnikov
 
Kevin Connauton - Connor Murphy
 
Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek
 
Nicklas Grossmann - Michael Stone
 
Mike Smith  
 
Louis Domingue
 
Injured: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (upper body), Anders Lindback (achilles surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone)
 
Scratched: Kyle Chipchura, Jiri Sekac
 
Suspended: Jarred Tinordi

OILERS

Taylor Hall - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian  
 
Patrick Maroon - Leon Draisaitl - Jordan Eberle 
 
Lauri Korpikoski - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Nail Yakupov  
 
Adam Cracknel - Mark Letestu - Iiro Pakarinen  
 
Andrej Sekera - Mark Fayne  
 
Griffin Reinhart - Adam Clendening  
 
Nikita Nikitin - Jordan Oesterle  
 
Cam Talbot  
 
Laurent Brossoit  
 
Injured: Oscar Klefbom (leg), Andrew Ference (hip), Brandon Davidson (knee), Benoit Pouliot (shoulder), Eric Gryba (knee), Adam Pardy (undisclosed), Matt Hendricks (upper body).
 
Scratched: Luke Gazdic, Anton Lander, Darnell Nurse (suspended)
 
Status report: Ekman-Larsson skated Saturday morning, but will not be in the lineup according to Tippett. Ekman-Larsson has missed two games. To make room for Smith on the roster, the Coyotes are expected to assign goaltender Marek Langhamer to Springfield of the American Hockey League. … Nurse has two games remaining on his three-game suspension. Nikitin will be inserted into the lineup for Pardy, who has an undisclosed injury.

Who's hot: Korpikoski has three goals in five games Gordon has two goals in his past three games and Vermette has two goals and four assists in his past four games. … Sekera has four assists in his past four games.

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