GLENDALE, AZ - The Oilers have struggled to beat the Arizona Coyotes in regulation for a while now.
The Coyotes currently hold a streak of 22 straight games against the Oilers in which they’ve recorded at least a point, going 18-0-4 in that span. The trend continued this season with the Coyotes beating the Oilers 4-1, 4-3 in overtime and 4-0. The Oilers lone win against the Coyotes this season came in a shootout on January 2.
“We have not played smart against this team one bit, and they force you to do that sometimes,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “They’re well-structured, they create and wait for turnovers and make you pay. Last game was one of the dumbest games we’ve played — pinching, not covering and out of position — they win. The game in here we got scored on basically four times on their power play and they win. We’ve found ways to be really inefficient in a number of areas so they can beat us and they do that to a lot of teams.”
In order to come out of the desert with a win, Edmonton will have to go into the game willing to check tightly and keep the scoring down.
“I think it’s a mindset with our group, coming in here and understanding the detail our opponent plays with,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks. “It’s not going to be a high-scoring affair. It’s going to be a close, tight game and we need to accept that and play that style of hockey. It can be frustrating at times, but that’s the way this game is going to go tonight and we need to understand that.”
The Coyotes present several challenges to the Oilers, and have had stretches of success throughout the 2015-16 season.
“They’ve had success against the Pacific Division by being patient and waiting for their opportunities to attack,” said McLellan. “Their back end and their goaltender, between the three players on the ice, is exceptional because of the way the goalie moves the puck and how well-rehearsed they are in breaking out.”
“I think they’re the best faceoff team in the league, so they start with the puck a lot and that can be really frustrating if you chase the puck a lot off faceoffs,” said Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl. “We have to bear down on our faceoffs and try to come up with the puck.”
The Coyotes do lead the league in faceoff wins (54.2%); however, they may be able to be exploited with their penalty kill. The Coyotes are 25th in the league on the kill (78.5%) this season. With the Oilers looking to get back on track with their power play, tonight could present an opportunity to do so.
After going 4-for-6 on the man advantage against St. Louis on March 16, the Oilers have faltered in the two games since, going a combined 0-for-6.
“When we’ve had success we’ve made good reads, we’ve moved pucks firmly, quickly and we made the next play,” said McLellan. “When we’re struggling, we seem to hold onto it a long time. We let penalty kills reset, so we’re doing their job for them. The other night we were all very frustrated because we had been building some momentum and had some success. Even when we weren’t scoring the games before we had momentum going and I thought we gave that back the other night. We’ve got to fix that. It was individuals making very poor decisions, forcing pucks through, stuff getting picked off, frustration builds. I don’t anticipate us being in that situation again tonight. I’d like to think that we’re sharper and will move pucks around better. We’ve had success when the puck has gone somewhere near the net and we’re prepared to play on the inside, grab rebounds and score on secondary chances.”
The Oilers look to pot one or more on the power play tonight in order to get a leg up on Arizona.
“I think we just have to get back to what we did against St. Louis,” said Draisaitl. “We shot the puck a lot and we got it back off that and we moved the puck quick. I think sometimes we tend to hold onto the pucks too long. We have to make sure that we make crisp, firm passes and let the puck do the work basically.”
Cam Talbot will start in net for the Oilers. In his last start, Talbot made 40 saves in a 2-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks last Friday. He is red-hot in his last 10 starts, going 7-2-1 with a .948 save percentage.
The Oilers will be without forward Patrick Maroon (illness), which could lead to some line shuffling. It also means McLellan will decide between inserting Adam Cracknell or Anton Lander into the lineup.
“We may do some things with our lines tonight that will be a little bit different and we’ll make a decision between regular centre, penalty killer and heavier winger. That’s where it comes in,” said the bench boss.
For the Coyotes, defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes his return from an upper body injury, which has sidelined him since March 7.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (29-39-7) at COYOTES (31-34-7)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; FS-A, SNW, NHL.TV
Season series: The Arizona Coyotes have won three of four games against the Edmonton Oilers, including a 4-0 victory on March 12 at Rexall Place. Coyotes center Antoine Vermette scored twice and had an assist, and Mike Smith made 44 saves for the shutout.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton opens a three-game road trip Tuesday after going 2-3-0 on a five-game homestand. The Oilers spent a portion of practice Monday working on their power play; they were 0-for-4 in a 3-2 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. "One (player) can destroy five," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers website. "When you're on a power play, if one is making a bad decision and one is making poor reads, [it] affects the mindset of the power play. Now, [Sunday] night it was one at a time, it wasn't just one individual. They were taking turns making poor reads, but continuing to work it to get them to understand why certain things happen on the power play is important, and we'll continue to do that." Forward Patrick Maroon did not practice Monday and is unlikely to play. Adam Cracknell skated on the top line with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle. Goalie Cam Talbot is expected to start.
Coyotes team scope: Arizona did not practice Monday, but defenseman Philip Samuelsson was assigned to Springfield of the American Hockey League. That could mean the return of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has missed the past six games because of an upper-body injury. Ekman-Larsson did accompany the Coyotes to San Jose, where they lost 3-0 on Sunday. Arizona opens a four-game homestand Tuesday. The Coyotes have been shut out in back-to-back games; they haven't scored since Vermette's empty-net goal at 19:06 of the third period in a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks last Thursday. "We're not executing," captain Shane Doan told The Arizona Republic after the loss Sunday. "We're not making the simple plays. Sometimes the best play is just a 15-foot pass, but that has to be tape-to-tape. It can't be bobbled. Makes you look slow. Makes your power play look slow. That's what happened."