GLENDALE, AZ - The Edmonton Oilers open a two-game road trip tonight in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes. The team comes into the game with two new faces behind the bench in Craig MacTavish and Todd Nelson. For now, Craig MacTavish will be the head coach of record but the Oilers GM expects to hand off the reigns to Nelson in short order.
"For Todd Nelson, his teams always play for him," MacTavish began. "Seeing his teams play over the years, they're always very well organized and play a passionate brand of hockey and that's undeniable.
"What is still in question is whether he can bring that to an NHL group. That's going to be the litmus test for him on whether he has success in his tenure here."
For Nelson, he is excited for the opportunity.
"Seeing all the faces of the people that I know, it was good to see them. They're happy to see me. It rekindled old thoughts and stories so we had a pretty good conversation this morning."
Nelson added that he was looking forward to the challenge as he prepares to take the reins behind the bench at some point in the not-too-distant future.
"I understand the challenges here," he said. "I'm just going to come here and work hard, and try to improve this hockey club.
"I want to build a culture conducive to success and get everyone to play for one another."
SMALL LINEUP CHANGES
The team will be going with not a lot of changes to the lineup overall. No changes up front:
One of the targets that Coach Nelson has placed a priority on as he arrives in Edmonton is the power play.
"Special teams are important, obviously," Nelson said when asked what he needs to improve on this club. "You want to try and get the power play working and generate goals with that.
"And scoring goals in general. Trying to create some offence in the offensive zone by throwing pucks to the net and getting bodies in front."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (7-19-5) at COYOTES (10-16-4)
TV: SNW, FS-A
Season series: Arizona Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker has dominated the Edmonton Oilers through the first three games of the series with five goals and seven points. Boedker had a hat trick in the Coyotes' 7-4 win on Oct. 13 and was one of 13 Arizona players with at least a point. Boedker also scored the game-winner to support Devan Dubnyk's 33 saves on Nov. 16. Forward Tobias Rieder's two shorthanded goals in 58 seconds sparked the Coyotes to a franchise-record 16th straight win against the Oilers on Dec. 1.
Oilers team scope: One day after being held to 16 shots on goal in a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers, Edmonton fired coach Dallas Eakins. General manager Craig MacTavish takes over on an interim basis and Todd Nelson will join the coaching staff as an assistant before eventually taking over the interim title. Each will try to spark the Oilers, who have the NHL's fewest wins (seven) and points (19) and are 1-11-4 since winning back-to-back games Nov. 7 and 9. "I had no real good reason to do this outside of performance," MacTavish said. "That's the bottom line that we're all judged by, is the performance level of the hockey club and certainly the record." The Oilers, whose 65 goals are last among Western Conference teams and 27th in the League, have been shut out four times and held to two or fewer goals in 16 of their past 21 games. Edmonton is 1-15-4 against the Western Conference.
Coyotes team scope: Arizona concludes a three-game stay at Gila River Arena, where they've lost a franchise-record nine straight games. A 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday was the Coyotes' fifth straight and eighth in its past nine games overall. "Every day you have to look at it as a new challenge and show up and make sure you're trying to maximize," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes website Monday. "If you expect the players to maximize, your coaching staff better maximize." Tippett shuffled his lineup Saturday by benching center Sam Gagner (three goals, 10 points, minus-9) and defenseman Connor Murphy, but Gagner skated on the second line at practice Monday. Forward Lauri Korpikoski (lower body) did not practice and is questionable. Arizona has allowed at least one power-play goal in eight straight games.