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Struggling Coyotes visit desperate Oilers

by Sean McCullen

COYOTES (23-18-9) at OILERS (15-31-6)


Last 10: Phoenix 3-7-0; Edmonton 2-7-1

Season series: This is the fourth of five games between the Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. The Coyotes won the first three, most recently rallying for a 4-3 overtime win at Arena on New Year's Eve.

Big story: With the second-worst record in the NHL, first-year Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins acknowledged this week that his job may be in jeopardy.

"I firmly know that if I can't get this group going very soon, that it could be me. But if I wasn't up to the challenge, and I didn't like it, I would step down or I would have never left my other job. I'm fine with that," he told reporters.

But Eakins, who is the Oilers' fifth coach in six years, says continuity is important for a young team.

"There's been change year after year after year in my position, and I think that gets players spinning. … I think it's extremely important that we stay the course here system-wise," he said.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: Phoenix lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. It was the Coyotes' sixth loss in the past eight games and their fifth straight on the road (0-3-2).

The Coyotes have scored seven goals during their five-game road losing streak.

Three veterans who have struggled to produce offensively, whether at Arena or on the road, are Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan. Vrbata has not scored a goal in 13 games. Ribeiro scored a goal Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has four goals in his past 20 games. Doan scored Wednesday to snap a seven-game goalless drought.

General manager Don Maloney expects more from the Coyotes' veteran players.

"We just need more from our top players, and I think they would say that themselves," Maloney told the Arizona Republic. "Generally speaking, your veteran, top players get paid the most, and that's their job to produce points and help us win."

The game is the second of a three-game Western Canada road trip that concludes Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Oilers: Edmonton has lost five straight games (0-4-1), the most recent a 2-1 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks in Ben Scrivens' first game in goal for the Oilers at Rexall Place. They have scored 10 goals during the slide.

Eakins wants his team to be more aggressive against Phoenix to generate more offense.

"We're trying to slowly ramp up our system play to be more aggressive," Eakins said after practice Thursday. "That will be the plan against Phoenix. Phoenix is a team that has annually seemed to check very well, but a team that they kind of sit back in the weeds a lot and they wait for you to make a mistake and they jump on it, then they go back and sit in the weeds and wait for the next one to come along. We have to be guarded with that. But the thing I struggle with is I don't want us to play so guarded that we're just coming in and dumping in pucks and playing a sit-back game. We're not built very well to play that kind of game."

Ilya Bryzgalov will be in net against Phoenix.

Who's hot: Coyotes center Antoine Vermette has three goals in the past five games. … Oilers forward Jordan Eberle has scored a goal in three straight games.

Injury report: Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (lower body) plans to return to the lineup Friday. Defenseman David Schlemko (upper body) is day-to-day. … Edmonton forward Nail Yakupov (concussion) passed the necessary protocols and will return. Forward Ales Hemsky (left ankle) and defenseman Philip Larsen (illness) have returned to practice, but neither will play. Hemsky has missed the past three games, while Larsen has not played since Dec. 19.

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