EDMONTON, AB - An injury-riddled Oilers roster put together a hard-fought 2-1 victory in Minnesota on Thursday. In fact, they have won four of their last five road games. The challenge tonight for Edmonton is finding a way to transition their road success to home ice, where they are 1-5-1 in their last seven games at Rexall Place.
“I think we were really disciplined,” Oilers winger Nail Yakupov said of his team’s recent road success. “We’re working really hard for 60 minutes, we’re not stopping in the second or third period of play. I think our goalie has been really good. We took a lot of penalties in those games, but our penalty kill has been very good for us too. We have to stay out of the box. We can’t take too many penalties. Overall, I think it was really exciting to get wins on the road, especially against really good teams. Now we’re really happy to be back and play for our fans.”
The Oilers have managed points in six of their last eight games overall.
“I think we’re really starting to learn how to play the right way,” said Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl. “I think there’s a little different atmosphere around our team right now. Guys are really buying into the systems. It doesn’t matter if we’re out of the playoffs already. We play for ourselves and I think it’s huge to try and win every game.”
The Oilers host the Arizona Coyotes tonight, who have a history of being a thorn in their side. Arizona is 2-0-1 in their previous three meetings this season. The Coyotes are riding a 21-game point streak against the Oilers, dating back to Edmonton’s last regulation win against them on January 25, 2011.
NUGE COMING BACK IS HUGE
The Oilers continue to deal with injuries, losing defenceman Adam Pardy and forward Matt Hendricks for tonight’s game. Fortunately, they do get centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back into the fold.
Nugent-Hopkins has missed 21 games due to a broken hand he suffered by blocking a shot. Now he returns to give the Oilers their first look of the season with all three top centres in the lineup at the same time.
“It’s really nice. I don’t think we’ve played one game this year with the full team,” said Draisaitl. “It’s nice to be getting closer to that with having Nuge back. It will be fun to see how that works out.”
“It’s nice to have,” Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said of having three offensive centres. “You have to have complementary wingers as well, so your team has to be fairly deep. It’s a great thing to have, especially for teams that like to match up. When you have three lines that can produce offence that’s a good thing. Nuge will play in the middle tonight. We may experiment in the next 10 or 11 games moving someone over to the wing to see what we have as well.”
Nugent-Hopkins skated with Lauri Korpikoski and Yakupov this morning.
“I’ve had some time with Yak before so we kind of know each other a little bit,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “Korpi, from what I’ve seen, adjusts well with different guys. Hopefully we get out there, get some scoring chances and be responsible defensively too.”
Nugent-Hopkins has 30 points (8-22-30) in 46 games this season.
“He means a lot to our team,” said McLellan. “He’s a very important player and we’re excited about having him back. He plays in all situations. He can be an offensive catalyst, can check, can do a lot of good stuff for our team. He hasn’t played in two months. Hasn’t been able to handle the puck a lot in his injured time. Do we expect him to be a saviour? No, but I think we’re excited about having him back.”
With Nugent-Hopkins back in the lineup, the Oilers will roll out the following lines, based on morning skate:
Pardy has been ruled out, according to McLellan, and could be week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. Nikita Nikitin draws in. Darnell Nurse is serving the second of his three-game suspension. The absences present opportunity for young blueliners to step up. One of those players is Jordan Oesterle.
“He can skate,” said McLellan. “He’s not afraid to skate with the puck, he can escape, he gets the puck moving up the ice, seems to be confident. It’s good for us to see him here again. When you put our group of defencemen together that we have now, less Pardy tonight again, it gets to be even more important that we have a skater back there.”
Matt Hendricks is day-to-day with his injury and Cam Talbot will start tonight. The Coyotes will counter with Mike Smith, who hasn’t played since December 8, dealing with a core muscle injury.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
COYOTES (29-32-7) at OILERS (27-36-7)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; SN, FS-A+, NHL.TV
Season series: The Arizona Coyotes are 2-0-1 against the Edmonton Oilers, with the wins at Gila River Arena. Jordan Eberle scored twice, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the deciding shootout goal in Edmonton's 4-3 victory at Rexall Place on Jan. 2.
Coyotes team scope: Arizona is nine points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference after ending a 10-game road losing streak with a 4-1 victory at the Calgary Flames on Friday. "We kind of know the situation we're in, but we're trying to push, trying to become a better team," said Brad Richardson, who scored twice in the third period. "There's a lot of young guys here that are kind of learning their way. These are big games for all of us. We're trying to get better as a team and grow as a group." Louis Domingue made 24 saves; with rookie Marek Langhamer as his backup, Domingue could start the second half of the back-to-back.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton activated Nugent-Hopkins from injured reserve Friday. The forward injured his hand blocking a shot Jan. 18 against the Florida Panthers. Nugent-Hopkins has eight goals and 30 points in 46 games. If he plays, it will be the first time this season Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Eberle and Connor McDavid have been in the lineup for the same game. "The biggest thing is, we haven't been able to put our team together on the ice to really know what we have or don't have and give it time to jell or grow," coach Todd McLellan told the Edmonton Journal. "So we're going to have to make some decisions in the summer without having the complete package together." Defenseman Darnell Nurse will serve the second of a three-game suspension for being the aggressor in a fight with Roman Polak of the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. Cam Talbot is likely to be in goal again after making 29 saves in a 2-1 win at the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.