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Reinforcements arrive as Oilers visit Phoenix

by John Kreiser /

OILERS (14-13-3) at COYOTES (15-12-3)

TV: SNET-Edmonton; FS-Arizona

LAST 10: Edmonton 4-5-1; Phoenix 4-6-0

Season Series: The teams are meeting for the second time this season as the Oilers pay their second visit to Arena. Phoenix beat Edmonton 4-2 on Nov. 5 and has won seven of the last eight games between the teams.

Big Story: Both teams have hit the skids recently after good starts. The Oilers have lost six of their last eight games and are coming off a 3-0 loss at Calgary on Saturday in which they managed only 21 shots. The Coyotes were one of the NHL's success stories for the first two months of the season, but have dropped three in a row and five of seven this month after a 4-1 loss at Anaheim on Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Oilers: Here comes to cavalry. The Oilers hope the return of Taylor Hall (shoulder) and defenseman Corey Potter (knee) will give a jump-start to a team that has struggled at both ends of the ice in the past few weeks. Both are expected to play in Phoenix.

"The season's long, we still have a long haul ahead of us and I'm glad to be back as soon as I could," said Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft who hasn't played since being injured against Colorado on Nov. 26. "It [stinks] missing games, especially when the team's not doing well. You just want to be back and help but I'm glad I took the extra few days to really get it better and I feel great now."

The four-day break also allowed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to take a couple of days off from practice to rest some nagging injuries. He's expected to start.

Coyotes: Phoenix comes back to the desert mired in a three-game losing streak after getting beaten in Anaheim. The Coyotes spent the night playing catch-up after falling behind 2-0 early in the second period. Martin Hanzal's power-play goal cut the deficit in half, but Niklas Hagman's goal with 1:04 left before intermission took a lot of steam out of the visitors.

"We have to do things a lot better, a lot harder," an unhappy coach Dave Tippett said. "Our execution, our compete [level] -- there are a lot of factors that have to be better."

Who's Hot: Although the Oilers were blanked in their last game, No. 1 draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has five points in his last four games and leads all rookies with 13 goals and 32 points. … Coyotes center Ray Whitney has four points in his last five games, as does defenseman Keith Yandle.

Injury Report: While Hall and Porter are expected back, the Oilers are still without defensemen Cam Barker (ankle surgery) and Taylor Fedun (leg). Another defenseman, Andy Sutton, is sitting out a suspension. … Phoenix is still without defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who's sidelined with a lower-body injury.

Stat Pack: The Oilers are 28th in the League in shots on goal with just 26.4 per game. …The Coyotes have struggled all season on the power play, especially at home. They are 29th overall at 11.6 percent and 28th at home at 10.5 percent. Wednesday's power-play goal in Anaheim was just the second in the last 10 games for Phoenix.

Puck Drop: Until the last couple of weeks, free-agent acquisition Mike Smith had given the Coyotes the kind of goaltending that they had gotten from Ilya Bryzgalov for the past two seasons before Bryzgalov left for Philadelphia. But Smith's struggles have coincided with those of his team -- he's 1-4-0 in his last five starts, has allowed 19 goals and been pulled twice.

"We've been a good team this year bouncing back after losses," he said after the defeat in Anaheim, "but we're in a stretch right now where it seems to be a little harder to do that. Right now, we're not giving ourselves much chance to win games."

With the Coyotes playing back-to-back games, don't be surprised if Jason LaBarbera gets thecall against the Oilers.

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