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Oilers go for 7 in a row as they visit Phoenix

by Matthew Mankiewich

OILERS (8-2-2) at COYOTES (6-4-2)


Last 10: Edmonton 7-2-1, Phoenix 6-3-1

Season Series: It's the first meeting of the season between the Western Conference rivals. The Coyotes have taken three of four in each of the last two seasons after the Oilers won seven of eight in the two previous seasons. The Oilers scored a total of eight goals in four games last season, half of those coming in their lone win, 4-3 at Arena on Jan. 25.

Big story: The Oilers are one of the biggest stories League-wide -- they are off to their best start since 1986-87, when they won the third of their five Stanley Cup championships in seven years. They've won six in a row, Nikolai Khabibulin is stopping shots at a career-high pace and the top two scorers are their youngest and second-oldest players, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Smyth. They've also benefited from playing eight of their first 12 games at home. This is the second game of a six-game road trip that takes them to Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Chicago. The Coyotes have been playing pretty solid hockey as well, winning three in a row and going 4-0-1 in five games before getting stoned by Pekka Rinne and the Predators on Thursday -- hours after Rinne signed a lucrative seven-year contract extension.

Team Scope

Oilers: No team wins eight of 12 on goaltending alone, though Khabibulin has had a lot to do with extending his team's winning streak. He's now 6-0-2 and leads the NHL with a 0.98 goals-against average and .963 save percentage. He stopped 19 shots in the Oilers 3-0 win in Los Angeles on Thursday, his second shutout of the season, but he's had a lot of help in front of him as well -- his teammates blocked 22 shots.

"There's a reason why we're winning a lot of hockey games," Jordan Eberle told the Oilers' Web site. "One is Khabibulin and the other is [Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert]."

More precisely, Smid and Gilbert have each been averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, and Smid has a League-leading 45 blocked shots to his credit.

Coyotes: One hot goalie to another. No doubt Rinne was happy about his seven-year, $49 million extension, and he played like it Thursday, making 35 saves in the Preds' 3-0 win. The Coyotes had played the previous night in Colorado, but the back-to-back was much less of a concern than Martin Hanzal sitting out with a lower-back injury incurred in the third period of the Colorado game.

"Hanz does a lot of things for our team both sides, special teams and big minutes," coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic. "He was a guy we missed but with that being said, everybody has injuries. You have to find a way to win. If we could have jumped out and got a lead tonight, that would have helped a lot and it didn't happen.

"Once we get down, our energy levels weren't where they needed to be and you're chasing the game and chasing all night," Tippett said.

Who's Hot: Oilers defenseman Corey Potter has also been eating up minutes and racking up points, going 20-plus in six of his last eight games and picking up eight points in his last 10. Nugent-Hopkins, the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October, had 11 points in his first 11 games before being held off the board in L.A. Smyth has seven points in his last five games, as does Hanzal. The line Hanzal plays on with Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata had scored seven goals and logged 17 points during the three-game winning streak.

Injury Report: The best news coming out of Phoenix is that Hanzal should be ready to play. Coyotes forward Cal O'Reilly (groin) may be able to make his Phoenix debut as well after being acquired from Nashville last week. Michal Rozsival (facial injury) has yet to return to practice. … Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney (knee) is expected to return to Edmonton for evaluation, when he hopes to be cleared to resume skating. Forward Ales Hemsky (shoulder) is looking to come back soon, leaving some tough choices for coach Tom Renney. Forward Darcy Hordichuk (knee) is not expected back till mid-November.

Stat Pack: Don't expect a lot of power-play goals -- both teams have been strong on the penalty kill, The Coyotes have allowed just three goals on their last 40 chances after surrendering three PPGs in six tries to San Jose on opening night. The Oilers are fifth in the League themselves at 89.6 percent (5-for-48). … The Coyotes are a frustrating 3-3-1 at home this season with two shutout losses, but 3-1-1 on the road and 3-0-1 since that season-opening loss to the Sharks.

Puck Drop: "It's awesome. It's so much better coming to the rink when you're winning hockey games; the atmosphere is great. We haven't got too high and we haven't got too low. We've got a little swagger; and I think that's good, you bring it into your game." -- Eberle on the Oilers' site discussing the team's winning attitude.

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