EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers host the very familiar Arizona Coyotes tonight for the fifth time this season.
“Stretches like this happen,” Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said. “I think there was one time we played Vancouver (a few times) at the start and we’ve got Calgary coming up a few times too. With divisional teams, it’s pretty standard. You definitely get familiar with a team, you know how they’re going to play. Being on our home ice, we want to bring that same intensity and that same going to the net and scoring goals like we did and try to keep the puck out of our net a little more.”
Arizona has won all four of the previous games, but the last one may sting the most. Todd Nelson’s first game behind the bench as interim coach ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in Arizona on December 16. Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with less than a second left in overtime to spoil the night for the Oilers.
“We definitely want to have a better second period tonight than we did down there,” said Nelson, who’s team was outshot 27-5 in the second. “That was a tough one to lose with .3 seconds left. That’s still pretty fresh on our minds, but we want to play a solid 60 minutes. I think that’s the biggest thing, to play with a high tempo for 60 minutes and try to bring the play to them.”
Ben Scrivens starts in net for the Oilers and Luke Gazdic draws in for an ill Matt Hendricks.
THE UTILITY MAN
Nelson is very familiar with centre Mark Arcobello, having coached him for a few seasons in Oklahoma City. Arcobello scored two goals and finished 64% in the faceoff dot in the Oilers last game, against Dallas. Nelson is impressed with how Arcobello can do it all.
“He’s pretty versatile,” Nelson said. “We can use him on the power play or penalty kill. He’s been doing a good job on the kill. As long as he keeps his feet moving, he’s not a very big guy but he competes hard, he finishes his checks and he has great versatility. He’s an excellent tool for us to have.”
A SHIFT IN MENTALITY
As we wrote about yesterday, the Oilers have begun crashing the net more and getting more rebound goals. Nelson says that it’s easier to change the team’s mentality and make that an inherent focus now that the team has seen success with the concept.
“It’s easier now because we have scored goals like that and they’re believing in that theory,” Nelson said. “It’s a very simple game when you throw the puck at the net, you crash the net, you go for rebounds, you get traffic and goalies are so good nowadays that you have to have a net-front presence. Even if it’s a harmless shot, you put it in a good place where it creates a rebound and creates havoc for the defencemen who are trying to locate the puck. That’s the mandate here. The other plays will open up. If we keep on scoring goals like that, teams will start to back off and then things will open up for us.”
GETTING OVER CLOSE LOSSES
The Oilers have played in 18 one-goal games this season, with a record of 4-7-7 in those contests. It’s a frustrating thing that the Oilers take no moral victories from.
“We’re almost the perfect opponent,” Eberle said. “We give you a great game but we can’t find a way to finish it out. Good teams do that and we’ve got to find a way to do that. Obviously, being up by three against Dallas and then them coming back, that’s frustrating. That can’t be done in this league.”
QUICK NOTES: Mark Fayne leads the Oilers in blocked shots with 67. Boyd Gordon is two assists away from 100 in his NHL career. Taylor Hall has five points (3-2-5) in four games against Arizona this season. Coyotes Shane Doan has 59 career points (15-44-59) against Edmonton in 68 games.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
COYOTES (11-18-4) at OILERS (7-20-7)
Season series: The Arizona Coyotes have won all four games against the Edmonton Oilers. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with less than a second left in overtime to give the Coyotes a 2-1 win at Gila River Arena on Dec. 16. Arizona forward Mikkel Boedker has five goals and two assists. Former Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk has earned two of the four Coyotes victories; he has made 64 saves on 66 shots for a .970 save percentage.
Coyotes team scope: Arizona is 2-6-1 and has been outscored 36-18 in December after losing 7-1 at the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. Each win this month has come against the Oilers. Goalie Mike Smith, making his first start in four games, was pulled 1:39 into the second period after he allowed four goals on 11 shots. "We had some chances [in the first period] and didn't capitalize on them. … That's kind of a microcosm of our team this year," coach Dave Tippett said. "Get some chances, can't score. Give up too many chances and not getting enough saves. … I was disappointed that we didn't play better in front of [Smith], defend better in front of him." Smith is 5-15-2 with a 3.48 goals-against average and .884 save percentage. Dubnyk made 26 saves on 29 shots in relief. Ekman-Larsson scored for the Coyotes. It was his third goal in the past four games. After this game, Arizona will play its next two at home, beginning Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton is 0-1-2 under interim coach Todd Nelson, whose first game behind the bench was the overtime loss to the Coyotes on Dec. 16. Rookie center Leon Draisaitl will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday. "I think sometimes when a player sits out like that, to view the game from a different perspective is helpful," Nelson said. "Especially when you're watching up top, the game slows down, you're able to learn different things with system work and watch maybe other players play in that position, what they are doing correctly, or incorrectly." Draisaitl, whom the Oilers selected with the third pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, centered a line with Nail Yakupov at left wing and Tyler Pitlick at right wing at practice Monday. Injured defenseman Nikita Nikitin (back) participated in practice, according to the Edmonton Journal, and expects to play Dec. 27 against the Calgary Flames. The Oilers scored seven goals in their final five games under former coach Dallas Eakins. They have scored nine times for Nelson, but have surrendered 11.