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Oilers open critical home stretch against Coyotes

by Brian Hunter

COYOTES (17-16-6) at OILERS (16-16-7)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-4-2; Edmonton 5-5-0

Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season, with the Oilers aiming for the sweep following post-regulation wins in both cities. Nail Yakupov's overtime goal gave them a 2-1 victory in Phoenix on Jan. 30, while Sam Gagner's shootout goal proved decisive in a 3-2 triumph in Edmonton on Feb. 23.

Big story: Nine games left in the regular season for each team, with the Coyotes three points out of eighth in the Western Conference and the Oilers four off the pace.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: Sweeping a three-game homestand to begin the month of April put Phoenix right back in the hunt for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but now the Coyotes are confronting a three-game road trip through western Canada that began Monday in Vancouver. They will need to improve upon one of the NHL's worst road records, which dropped to 4-9-5 following a 2-0 loss to the Canucks. Mike Smith couldn't have been much better, making 40 saves, but Cory Schneider turned aside all 19 shots he faced.

"They are a really good hockey team, especially on home ice and we didn't push back enough early and chased the game after that," Smith said. "When you are facing elimination like we are, we've got to be more desperate than we showed."

Oilers: This is the start of a three-game homestand for Edmonton, which plays seven of its final nine at Rexall Place. But has the Oilers' current three-game losing streak left them with too much ground to make up and not enough time? After opening a four-game road trip by scoring eight goals and routing the Flames, they had only two goals left in them for the remainder of the trip. Nick Schultz scored his first of the season early in the third period of Monday's game against the Ducks, drawing the Oilers into a tie, but Radek Dvorak's second of the night sent them to a 2-1 defeat.

"We have to find ways to win games and we're not doing that," Schultz told the Edmonton Sun. "We need to be better in a lot of areas, winning battles, getting pucks to the net, bodies to the net and scoring goals."

Who's hot: The goaltenders. Smith has stopped 64 of 65 shots for the Coyotes over two starts since returning from injury (the Canucks' second goal Monday was into an empty net). Devan Dubnyk, meanwhile, has allowed eight goals over his past five starts for the Oilers and has a .948 save percentage over that span.

Injury report: Phoenix forward Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) is day-to-day, while defenseman Zbynek Michalek (ankle) is on injured reserve. … Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky (foot) missed Monday's game. Forward Eric Belanger (groin) is on injured reserve.

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