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GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (20-26-15-4) at Edmonton Oilers (26-27-10-2).

TIME: Tuesday, 9 p.m. EST.

The crowd at Rexall Place may turn ugly in a hurry. It's not because the Edmonton Oilers are struggling to stay in the playoff race.

Mike Comrie, now with the Phoenix Coyotes, plays in his hometown for the first time since a bitter contract dispute caused the Oilers to trade him.

Comrie was even booed Sunday night in Calgary, which, like Edmonton, is in the Canadian province of Alberta.

"It's part of professional sport. We play this game for the fans," Comrie told the Calgary Sun. "We wouldn't be playing in this league if it wasn't for them. When you go into opposing rinks, they're cheering for the home team and doing everything they can to motivate their team, and that's great.

"It's fun when you're into the game and the crowd's into the game. Whether they're cheering or booing, emotionally it helps you focus on the game."

It was believed Comrie could be a key piece to a promising future for the Oilers, having totaled 53 goals and 58 assists over the previous two seasons. The 23-year-old center, however, refused to sign a new deal with Edmonton during the offseason due to a dispute over financial terms.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Comrie held out and asked for a trade. The Oilers obliged on Dec. 16, dealing the restricted free agent to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywitka and two draft picks.

Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe felt his organization had made a fair offer to Comrie.

"Money wasn't the issue and that was important to know," Lowe said after the trade was made. In the past, players have moved on out of Edmonton because of money. The type of money we felt we should have to pay Mike Comrie we felt we could afford to pay."

Comrie signed a one-year contract with the Flyers four days later, but was dealt to Phoenix on Feb. 9 for goalie Sean Burke and wingers Branko Radivojevic and Ben Eager.

Since totaling just four goals and five assists in 21 games with Philadelphia, Comrie has a goal and seven assists in 11 games for Phoenix.

He's already faced the Oilers twice this season, but neither game was in Edmonton. Comrie did not have a point in either outing and his team lost both - a 3-0 Flyers defeat on Jan. 10 and a 7-2 Coyotes loss on Friday.

While Comrie's new team is on an 0-4-1 winless streak and virtually out of the playoff chase, his old club is hanging on to slim playoff hopes.

The Oilers, 1-2-1 in their last four, are eight points out of the eighth and final postseason berth in the West.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 29): Coyotes - 59 points, 5th place, 22 PB, Pacific Division. Oilers - 64 points, 4th place, 18 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Ladislav Nagy, 24 goals; Shane Doan, 40 assists and 62 points; Andrei Nazarov, 118 PIM. Oilers - Ryan Smyth and Raffi Torres, 18 goals; Radek Dvorak, 29 assists; Smyth, 45 points; Georges Laraque, 93 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 29): Coyotes - Power play: 15.4 percent (45 for 292), 21st in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (268 for 326), 23rd. Oilers - Power play: 11.8 percent (32 for 272), 29th. Penalty killing: 80.4 percent (238 for 296), 29th.

GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Brian Boucher (9-13-8, 5 SO, 2.62 GAA); Jean-Marc Pelletier (1-1-0, 4.11). Oilers - Tommy Salo (15-18-6, 3, 2.54); Tyler Moss (no appearances).

SEASON SERIES: Oilers, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Friday; Oilers, 7-2. At Phoenix, Ethan Moreau scored twice to cap Edmonton's franchise-record five goals in a span of 5:38. The Oilers' seven goals and five-goal margin of victory were season highs.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 10-12-10-1 on the road; Oilers - 16-12-4-0 at home.

Associated Press
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