EDMONTON, AB - The Desert Dogs are howlin' into Rogers Place.
A meeting with the Arizona Coyotes tonight on home ice opens a three-game homestand for the Edmonton Oilers after returning from a three-game road trip that included four out of a possible six points and their first back-to-back set of games.
"It's finding ways to win. I think that's the most important thing," Leon Draisaitl, who scored his franchise-leading ninth overtime goal in a 2-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, said pre-game.
"We probably weren't the better team in every game that we've won, but we've found ways to win. Guys have stepped up from the goalies and defencemen to the forwards. It's just a matter of finding ways to win hockey games."
A big reason for that triumph was one half of the goaltending tandem in Mike Smith, who made 51 saves and improved to 5-3-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
But Head Coach Dave Tippett isn't going to break from his early formula of limiting his netminders to two games when he goes back to Mikko Koskinen between the pipes tonight.
"Not a juggling act - we have two guys that we want to keep fresh and playing… We need them both to play well, and I think we've balanced that pretty good," he said. "We've only had the one back-to-back, but they both know the situation."
The Coyotes always have the pack mentality -- exemplified in their 2.15 goals-against per game this season that's second in the NHL. Since starting their season with two-straight losses, Arizona has been able to earn a point in nine of their last 11 games to earn their second-most wins to start a season in franchise history with an 8-4-1 record.
The Oilers have won eight of their last 11 meetings with the Coyotes and have earned a point in five of their last six games against them at Rogers Place.
"They're a notorious team with being a very hard checking team and committed to their game plan," defenceman Darnell Nurse said. "That's come about again this year and they're able to score goals, too. These games are always a little extra important being a divisional game and a team we play so often, so it's going to be a hard matchup.
"They've got a lot of talent on their side in a team and we're going to have to match that same work ethic with the same commitment to ours."
LEANING ON LEON
If anything, Tippett believes he's playing too much.
"He can handle it, but there's too much. It depends how the game goes," Tippett said of Draisaitl. "You look at overtime games and he was at 23 (minutes) I think the other night, but in overtime you've got to add two-and-a-half minutes on that overtime too.
There's a reason the Deutschland Dangler has been put in the position to score the joint-most goals in the NHL this season alongside Boston's David Pastrnak and score the most in the league since January 1.
It's because he's made the adjustments and he's making the most of his opportunity.
Seeing Draisaitl on the ice for above 20 minutes is no regular occurrence anymore (in fact it's often expected), and that's born both out of necessity and worth for the bench boss that has the luxury of deploying him.
"Leon's a horse, and I think he plays better the more he plays. That being said, there are times when he's played a lot where the pace of play comes down that we have to be aware of. But he's doing alright out there."
But Draisaitl is anything but one dimensional, as he's put extra emphasis on developing a multi-faceted game that allows him to fill any role necessary for Tippett and his teammates.
"I've said it all along since I got to the NHL that I've always wanted to be a complete player in all three zones," he said. "I never wanted to be seen as an offensive player only; a player that's a liability in the defensive zone. I take big pride in that. It's just something that I paid a lot of attention to the last couple of years and I'm slowly starting to get better at it."
Tippett couldn't help but go right back to the German during a crucial 5-on-3 penalty kill against the Columbus Blue Jackets back on Wednesday, putting him out there for the face-off and ensuing kill because he knows the player's capabilities aren't limited.
"If you're combining the penalty kill into it, he was a pretty good penalty killer last year too," Tippett said. "He's a good face-off guy, so we've used him in that, and I'd like to use him a little less there."
"But you get into critical situations where you look down the bench looking for the best guy for the job, and sometimes he gets that nod."
Alex Chiasson will get an opportunity on the top line tonight with the aforementioned Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in an attempt by Tippett to kickstart the forward's production.
"Trying to get him going a little bit," he said. "Just trying to shuffle some things and try to find a spark somewhere.
"We've got some guys that have come in and played a little better -- (Jujhar Khaira) has been playing a bit better here lately so he's taken a bigger bit -- but you going into every game trying to figure out how things would be most efficient for you. You're trying to maximize each player, so we're trying a couple of tweaks today and we'll see how it works."
The recall of Colby Cave paid dividends with a goal in Saturday's win in the Steel City of Pittsburgh, and it's part of the reason why Riley Sheahan will miss tonight's meeting with the Coyotes.
"He would have the opportunity to play tonight, but he hasn't skated for three days now," Tippett said. "Colby played very well last game, so we'll let Colby in there tonight."
Lines at this morning's skate appeared as follows:
Nurse - Bear Klefbom - Persson K. Russell - Benning
-- Jamie Umbach, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (10-4-1) vs. COYOTES (8-4-1)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This is the first of four meetings between the two Pacific Division rivals.
In 2018-19's season series, the road team remained victorious in every game, with the Coyotes winning by 3-2 scores in both visits to Rogers Place (winning one in OT). The Oilers, meanwhile, secured a 3-2 overtime victory of their own when they travelled to Gila River Arena, then took their last tilt 3-1.
McDavid led both teams in scoring with five goals and two assists in only three games against ARI last year. Former 'Yote Alex Galchenyuk notched two goals and two assists in four outings.
Oilers team scope:
Mike Smith backstopped the Oilers to a 2-1 overtime road win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, helping improve his club's record to 10-4-1. Edmonton strung together their second consecutive win as a result.
After opening the season 7-1-0, the Oilers have gone 3-3-1 in their last seven. The club remains first in the Pacific Division with 21 points, edging the Vancouver Canucks by one.
Leon Draisaitl leads the Oilers in goals and points with 13 and 26, respectively. Connor McDavid leads the NHL and the Oilers in assists with 17 on the year. The Oilers Captain has 23 points in '19-20.
Coyotes team scope:
After losing 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens last Wednesday, the Coyotes bounced back with a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. The club has been both a strong home and road team this season, going 4-2-0 at home and 4-2-1 as visitors.
Conor Garland is Arizona's goal leader with seven on the year, while Nick Schmaltz is their highest point producer with 12. Goaltender Dary Kuemper is 6-3-0 this season with a 1.67 GAA, .942 SV% and one shutout.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers 10 wins are the most they have achieved through their first 15 games of a season since 1985-86. ... Edmonton has the second-best power play in the League, clicking at 27.9 percent. However, the club is 2-for-21 in their last eight games (9.2 percent). ... The Orange & Blue's PK is 85.4 percent, good for eighth in the League. ... The Oilers are 5-1-0 at Rogers Place this year, outscoring opponents 23-20.
The Coyotes have allowed an average of 2.15 goals-against per game this season, which is second in the NHL. ... They have ceded 28 goals against this season. ... Since starting the season 0-2-0, the 'Yotes have earned a point in nine of their last 11 games. ... Kuemper is 5-0-1 with a 1.97 GAA and .922 SV% on the road versus the Oilers all-time.
OILERS - Riley Sheahan (upper body) is day-to-day; Adam Larsson (fibula) is on IR; Josh Archibald (foot fracture) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (ribs) is on IR.
COYOTES - Brad Richardson (upper body) is on IR; Niklas Hjarlmarsson (fractured fibula) is on IR; Marian Hossa (skin infection) is on IR.