EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the Arizona Coyotes tonight at Rexall Place in the second of their five meetings this season. The last time the two teams played, the Coyotes won 7-4 with Mikkel Boedker recording a hat trick.
A FASTER START
In each of their last two games, the Oilers have allowed an early 3-0 lead in the first period. Playing from behind in the NHL is not easy and Edmonton dropped both games, despite rallying to come within one.
“It’s about the start for us,” Oilers centre Mark Arcobello said. “I think you can see in the last couple of games we have had some slow starts and it has ended up costing us, no matter how hard we battle back.”
For the Oilers, the players know it’s a matter of preparation and not unraveling at the first sign of adversity.
“It comes down to everyone’s individual preparation,” Arcobello said. “However guys get ready for the game, they have to make some adjustments. As a team, it is about sticking together early. Even if we give up one goal, we have to stay together and try and battle back earlier.”
The Oilers get a boost to their lineup as Taylor Hall returns from his knee injury tonight. Hall has 10 points (6-4-10) in 11 games this season.
“He’s definitely a guy that teams key on a little bit more,” Jordan Eberle said. “When he’s back in the lineup, it maybe takes the pressure off other guys a little bit. He can drive the game and the pace with his speed and he’s definitely a huge component to our team.”
Hall doesn’t know which line he’ll play with tonight. It could be a combination of players, dictated by Head Coach Dallas Eakins.
“We could very easily be back with (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), Hall and Ebs,” Eakins said. “We know that’s an excellent option. There are other teams in the league that have got their big centre running, they have another extremely dangerous player on another line. We may be getting to that point. That’s the next step for our team, to have a real danger in a couple of spots. With Nuge coming out and starting to separate himself and to emerge, we’re getting there. Are we there yet? We’re not sure. If you look at Chicago with Kane and Toews, they’re not always together. That may be an option, but we’re just not sure if we’re there yet.”
Hall understands that the Oilers might be hesitant to break up the line of Benoit Pouliot, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. While sitting out the last six games, Hall has seen them play well in his absence.
“To be honest, even though I am playing tonight I don’t really know what the lines are going to be,” Hall said. “I don’t think Dallas has figured it out yet. Whoever it is, I’m sure at one point I’ll be playing with those two again, whether it is on the power play or whatever it is. They’ve been playing well with Pouliot and he’s doing great right now. I don’t know if they want to mess them up. I’m just going to keep trying to contribute whatever I can.”
THE RETURN OF SAM
Sam Gagner makes his first visit to Rexall Place since being acquired by the Coyotes this summer. Gagner played in 481 games with the Oilers, scoring 295 points. He still has a lot of friends around the Oilers locker room and it will be a weird moment seeing Gagner on this ice in a different uniform.
“Sam was a guy who was here my whole career so far and it was weird to see him go,” Eberle said. “He’s obviously a close friend, but that’s the way the game works. You kind of take it in stride, he got a better opportunity there and he’s enjoyed it so far. When you see him on the other side of the ice, I think for me whenever you have friends on the other team, it makes you battle a little bit more because you want to beat them that much more because you’re talking to them after the game. It changes once you hit the ice.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
COYOTES (7-9-1) at OILERS (6-9-2)
TV: FS-A, SNW
Season series: The Arizona Coyotes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 7-4 in their first game on Oct. 15. Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker had his first career hat trick and Oilers forward Taylor Hall had two goals and one assist. Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens allowed six goals on 29 shots in the loss. Arizona was 4-0-1 against the Oilers in 2013-14.
Coyotes team scope: Arizona snapped a three-game losing streak with a 5-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. Martin Hanzal had his first hat trick since Dec. 4, 2008. Backup goalie Devan Dubnyk made 35 saves and earned his ninth career shutout in his fourth start of the season. Mike Smith is expected to be in net Sunday and has had success against the Oilers in his career with a 9-1-1 record in 13 games. Smith has struggled this season, leading the NHL in losses (9) and goals allowed (44) in 13 games. The Coyotes assigned defenseman David Schlemko and recalled forward Lucas Lessio from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League on Saturday. Arizona will play the Washington Capitals at home on Tuesday before starting a three-game road trip Thursday against the Dallas Stars.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton could get a big boost if Hall is able to return Sunday. Hall was placed on injured reserve after spraining his MCL on Nov. 1 against the Vancouver Canucks. He was expected to miss two-to-four weeks, but resumed skating on Thursday. "There's not too much pain anymore," Hall told the Oilers website. "The pain dissolved after a couple of days. It's more of just strength and being able to rely on it. Like I said, [Sunday] was another good day and I want to keep going." Hall has six goals and 10 points in 11 games this season. Edmonton lost 4-3 in overtime to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. After trailing 3-0 after the first period, the Oilers rallied to tie the game on Jeff Petry's goal in the third before Mike Hoffman's game-winner in overtime. The Oilers continue a five-game homestand Wednesday against the Canucks.