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Oilers drop tight-checking 3-1 decision to Coyotes

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.


EDMONTON - On a night when the Oilers needed a win to keep pace in the ultra-tight, ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff picture, the bounces didn't go their way.

Nail Yakupov sparked a rally, but second-period goals by Boyd Gordon and Antoine Vermette and a late-game marker by David Moss were enough as the Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Oilers 2-1 at Rexall Place.

Mike Smith made 29 saves for the Coyotes, while Devan Dubnyk blocked 29 for the Oilers.

With the win, the Coyotes move into ninth in the West with 42 points, one back of the eighth and final playoff spot currently occupied by the Detroit Red Wings. The Oilers remain in 12th, four points out.

"There are no points to give anymore," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "We're not going to give up on this (process) or speak that language. We're going to need help from other teams, but we've got to take care of what we can and take care of our business. Here we are in April with games that have meaning … We're not going to do anything but prepare to win the next game and get back into it.

"We are where we're at right now. It's a disappointing loss.

"We've gone through stretches where we've been hot and been able to create offence," added Sam Gagner. "You've got to get hot at the right time and we're playing a couple teams ahead of us in the standings and we've got to get focused on the next one.

"It's frustrating, but we've got to move forward."

Late in the opening period and with Ladislav Smid caught up ice, the Coyotes burst back the other way on a clear-cut odd-man rush. Leading the attack, Antoine Vermette attempted a cross-ice pass to Martin Hanzal on the far side, but his bouncing dish couldn't be corralled and the opportunity passed without incident.

Moments later, the Oilers were presented with a similar chance after Keith Yandle mishandled the puck at the offensive blue line. Thinking pass all the way, Jordan Eberle's cross-slot dish was broken up by the sliding defenceman.

Eberle was assessed the lone penalty of the period when he was sent off for hooking, but the Coyotes' power-play generated little.

Phoenix led 10-8 in shots after one. Of the chances generated by the Oilers in the opening 20, The Kid Line was instrumental in most; Eberle recorded three shots alone, leading both teams in that category, but the club passed up multiple opportunities to shoot.

"We would have liked to have taken more initiative," said Krueger. "I thought the shots should have been double of what we had. For the possession and chances we had, we were too complicated against a team where simplicity was desperately needed.

On a shot Dubnyk would like to have back, Boyd Gordon opened the scoring 37 seconds into the second period. After receiving a pass from David Moss in the corner, the veteran pivot spun and slid a prayer along the goal line that snuck between the goalie's legs.

"Coming into the second period, both teams likely said, 'Hey, it's a saw-off' and it's time to go to bat," said Krueger. "The start to the second period was difficult for the group to swallow. It was a tough bounce, a tough break. We needed to swallow that better and we didn't. The energy wasn't there, pucks were bouncing and we weren't getting our transition going."

The Coyotes made it a 2-0 game exactly nine minutes into the middle frame. Trying to play the puck, Dubnyk got caught behind his net and, despite his hurried efforts to return to the crease, Vermette slid a shot into the empty cage.

The visitors continued to press in an effort to extend their lead. Mere minutes after the goal, Chris Connor slipped behind the Oilers defence and broke in alone, but Dubnyk came up with a big save to keep the game within reach.

By the period's 15-minute mark and on the back of an 11-3 run, Phoenix opened up a 21-11 advantage in shots.

"They're a methodical team -- a tough team to play against, they really like to play a boring game," said Shawn Horcoff, who registered an assist in the loss. "I thought we came out in the third and gave ourselves a good chance, but it was too little, too late.

"None of you were surprised a Phoenix period looks like that and can be like that," added Krueger. "We needed to deal with that and be mature with it."

With 4:52 to play in the period, Coyotes captain Shane Doan was charged with interference. The home side generated plenty on the ensuing power-play, but nearly gave up a shorthanded goal in the process.

David Moss pounced on a turnover in the neutral zone and raced back the other way on a breakaway. The winger's attempt beat Dubnyk clean but caught the base of the post and stayed out.

The Oilers got right back into it at 7:49 of the third when Yakupov, depositing a Ryan Smyth centering pass, scored his 10th of the season.

Yakupov was assessed an interference minor less than two minutes later, but the Oilers came up with a big kill to preserve the 2-1 score.

The Oilers went back to the power-play at 12:56 when Hanzal crunched Hall in the numbers and was charged with boarding as a result. Scoring chances came fast and furious but, once again, Smith kept the home side's push at bay.

"We were really inconsistent," said Smid. "We turned over the puck and didn't really get many shots. It was too late in the third period.

Krueger pulled Dubnyk with 2:40 to play in regulation. With a faceoff back in the Oilers' end and with Dubnyk back between the pipes late, Moss sealed the deal by putting the Coyotes up 3-1.

The Oilers get back on action on Saturday night as the Calgary Flames pay a visit to Rexall Place.

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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