News, notes and more from Oilers practice on Friday, including new power play units and the appointment of head coach Todd McLellan to coach of the Under-23 North American team at the World Cup of Hockey.
GLENDALE, AZ - The Oilers will try to tame the Coyotes tonight in the desert. Arizona is the winner of three straight and they’re playing confident hockey in front of goaltender Louis Domingue, who is unbeaten in regulation since being recalled from the minors.
In eight starts since his call-up, Domingue is 6-0-2 with a 1.73 GAA and .947 save percentage.
“The goaltender that they’ve called up from the American League after Mike Smith’s injury has given them a ton of confidence and some great games,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
Regardless of who is in net, the Coyotes are a tough team to play. In their three straight wins, they have outscored opponents 9-3. The Oilers have just two wins against them in their last 10 meetings and the Coyotes have a 20-game point streak against the Oil.
“As always, you’re playing against a team that never beats themselves,” said McLellan. “They’re detail-oriented, they don’t have the home run mistakes that are slipping into our game right now. If you win in this building or you beat Arizona, you’ve done something well.”
The Oilers are hoping they can channel some positives from their last meeting with the Coyotes. The Oilers managed to beat Arizona 4-3 in a shootout on January 2.
“I think we kept to our game plan,” said Oilers forward Anton Lander. “Get the pucks behind them, don’t turn over any pucks in the neutral zone… That’s something we’ve got to be aware of tonight. Special teams is always key in these games.”
The Oilers see this stretch of divisional games as an important time for the team to gather as many points in the standings as possible.
“Big games, big points,” said Lander. “We need these points before it starts getting to late. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play tonight. They play a solid, strong game. They play tight, so we’ve got to find a way to get pucks behind them. That creates offence from there.”
GOING SEVEN D
With Matt Hendricks serving a suspension and Nail Yakupov close but not quite ready to play, the Oilers will dress seven defencemen tonight in Arizona. Brad Hunt slides back into the lineup, replacing Hendricks.
“It allows us to be a little more liberal with ice time,” said McLellan. “When you dress six and there’s a player who is not going real well in the first five or seven minutes of the game, it’s really hard to shorten your bench up in that situation.”
Hunt returning to the lineup is also an attempt to help spark the team’s power play, says McLellan.
“We’re still trying to tinker with the power play a little bit. Hopefully, Brad can come in and run that power play like we think he can. It hasn’t quite happened yet, but if he gets the opportunity and can use his shot from the point it’s something we’re going to encourage.”
When it comes to sparking the man advantage, or just offence in general, the key is simplifying.
“You try to simplify a little bit and get the pucks to the net. At the same time, we need someone around the crease picking up rebounds or screening the goalies,” said Lander. “I think that has been an issue lately for us and it’s something we’re going to work on.”
In addition to the Oilers power play, the club wants the offence as a whole to pick up. That means there is pressure on the team’s offensive leaders to pick up the pace. Even a young player like Leon Draisaitl feels the need for more scoring.
“I think as a top-six guy, or a guy who is supposed to score, you always have pressure to put up numbers or score so the team can win,” said Draisaitl. “There’s always a little bit of pressure. But I think right now, a few of our guys are going through that but I’m sure that we’re going to get those guys back and we’re going to get back on the board.”
It doesn’t all rest on players like Draisaitl, although the top six is where it is expected more consistently.
“We need the whole team to pick it up offensively, but we need certain individuals that have been very good for our team and have carried our team, we can’t expect them to do it all the time but it’s got to show up a little more often,” said McLellan. LINEUP NOTES
The Oilers will go with seven defencemen tonight. Hendricks is out, while Yakupov could play in San Jose on Thursday. Anders Nilsson gets the start tonight for the Oilers.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (17-23-3) at COYOTES (21-16-4)
TV: FS-A PLUS, SNW
Season series: The Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers have split two games, with each winning at home. Arizona defeated Edmonton 4-1 on Nov. 12, and the Oilers won 4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 2. Brad Richardson leads the Coyotes with four points (one goal). Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each has scored two goals for the Oilers.
Oilers team scope: Forward Nail Yakupov could return to the lineup after missing 21 games with a sprained ankle. "There's a chance [Yakupov] might be ready for tomorrow," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "I think he's pretty darn close. He's worked really hard." The NHL Department of Safety on Monday suspended forward Matt Hendricks three games for boarding Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad in the third period of a 2-1 loss Sunday. Goalie Cam Talbot has started the past six games. The Oilers are an NHL-worst 5-14-2 on the road. They scored three goals in back-to-back losses at home against Florida and the Tampa Bay Lightning. "I think we've got to be a little more determined in and around the blue paint," McLellan said.
Coyotes team scope: Goalie Louis Domingue is expected to make his 11th start in 12 games. With the exception of goalie Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), who is not expected to return until late February, Arizona is healthy. In Smith's absence, Domingue, 23, is 6-2-2 with a .936 save percentage since being recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League, including a 4-0 shutout against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. "He came in this year with a lot to prove," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes website. "He was hoping to have a chance to be that No. 2 guy, and then we signed [Anders] Lindback. So he came in very driven in camp and played well in camp. But with the numbers, he went down. He's come back and got the opportunity, and now he's running with it." The win Saturday came in the first of a seven-game homestand. The Coyotes are 7-1-2 in their past 10 games and in second place in the Pacific Division at the midway point of the season.