GLENDALE, AZ - With two games left before their bye week kicks in, the Oilers face two opponents who are coming off bye weeks of their own.
Tonight's opponent, the Arizona Coyotes, sit last in the NHL in addition to coming off the bye but Darnell Nurse cautioned that the Oilers can't take them lightly.
"Since I've been here in Edmonton they haven't been an easy team to play against, no matter what year it is or what position your team is in. These last two games before the break are big for us. We need to take it one game at a time and it's a big test for us," said Nurse.
Jujhar Khaira echoed the thoughts of his teammate.
"They're a young team. Individually on their team they want to do well," he said. "I don't think it's going to be an easy game whatsoever. We're going to have to go out there and work and earn one."
The Oilers have dropped three straight and seven of their last eight (1-6-1) but are coming off a well-played game in Nashville where they did lose 2-1 but nearly tied the game if not for a coaches challenge which found Khaira a silver of a millimetre offside.
"I thought we played really well defensively," Khaira said. "When pucks came in, we controlled their forecheck. We got it out pretty quickly. I thought we didn't try to do too much in the neutral zone, we just got it behind their D and got our forecheck going. I think that's when we're at our best."
With how well the team played in Nashville, the Oilers are going with the exact same lineup as they had in the Music City.
Klefbom - Benning Sekera - Russell Nurse - Larsson
Going with the same lineup also means that Cam Talbot is going ot start in goal.
"Al's first real practice with us was yesterday and his first actual team skate was yesterday due to days off, travel and his injury," Oilers head coach Todd McLellan stated. "We're trying to get him more up and running time. It doesn't help that we're going into another five-day break. We just feel that Talbs is our guy tonight."
McLellan felt that the rest of the lineup deserved another crack at it.
"We thought there was some good games by players that we needed some more from. We talked about Strome (yesterday). We're keeping it the same today and hopefully they can respond with that same effort."
Another player who McLellan was impressed with on Tuesday in Nasvhille is Drake Caggiula.
"In Drake's case, Drake has actually made that fourth line go, I thought. Pre-Christmas, his energy and his quickness helped (Letestu) and (Kassian) make things happen. As a line, it just hasn't been happening for them (without Drake)."
He added that Caggiula needs more games like that in order to work himself up the lineup.
"If you're in that slot you have to take the time that you get and try to make good on it and work your way back up."
-- Marc Ciampa, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (18-23-3) at COYOTES (10-27-6)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the second of four meetings this season between the Oilers and the Coyotes and the first of two games in Arizona. These teams will meet again on February 17th in Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on November 28 in Edmonton, when the Oilers defeated the Coyotes 3-2 in overtime. Zack Kassian and Matthew Benning scored for the Oilers in regulation, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the overtime winning goal.
Michael Cammalleri leads all Oilers players in career points against the Coyotes (41), posting 19 goals, 22 assists and 26 penalty minutes in 50 games. His 50 career games against Arizona, the most by a current Oiler.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers sit 11 points out of a playoff spot after having lost seven of their last eight games (1-6-1). At the start of the silde, the team was eight points out of a spot so they haven't lost as much ground as one would think but the importance of the next two games looms large heading into the bye week.
"We've lost ground but now as you keep dropping games you start relying on other teams for help and that's a slippery, dangerous slope," said Oilers centre Mark Letestu. "These two games are incredibly important as far as trying to build something, trying to close the gap. As you drop games, they all become important now. Is it reasonable to think we're going to run the table? Probably not but our winning percentage has to be pretty high, too, to get where we want to go. To lose these two games would be detrimental to that."
Oilers head coach Todd McLellan was asked about what the team could do to avoid falling behind after one period as they have often done on this slide.
"If you go back 10, 15 games a lot of our starts have been energetic and creating chances. We're winning the tradeoff in chances for and against (after the first period) but yet we're down by one or two. There's a number of reasons for it," McLellan began. "One, I think we take some unnecessary penalties really early in the game and it puts us on the penalty kill. Sometimes we're scored on, sometimes we're not but it could change the momentum and back a team like ours off a little bit."
Coyotes team scope:
The Coyotes are returning to action after their bye week. They went into the bye week about as hot as they've been all season long with a record of 3-3-1.
Defenceman Jakob Chychrun has collected a point in 4 of his last 7 games and in 6 of 14 games since returning from injury. He ranks 9th among NHL defensemen with a 2.93 shots per game average.
Derek Stepan leads the Coyotes with 6-13-19 in 20 home games and has registered a point in 11 of his last 13 home games (2-10-12). Stepan currently has the second-most points (8-18-26) on the team and is on a four-game point streak (0-4-4) and a four-game home point streak (2-3-5).
Alex Goligoski recently tied his season-high point streak of four games (Dec. 27-Jan. 4) and has picked up a point in six of his last eight (1-6-7). He ranks third on the team and leads Coyotes blueliners in scoring with 4-17-21.
By the Numbers:
Connor McDavid has 196 points through the first 171 games of his NHL career, on pace to become the fourth quickest active player and third youngest active player to reach 200 points. The only three who have achieved the feat quicker are: Sidney Crosby (142), Alex Ovechkin (165) and Evgeni Malkin (166).
McDavid needs a four-point performance tonight to become the third active player to reach 200 points before their 21st birthday. The others were Sidney Crosby (19 years, 207 days) and Steven Stamkos (20, 341). McDavid's 21st birthday is tomorrow (January 13).
The Oilers penalty kill has been an anomaly, ranked dead last in the NHL at home at 55.4% but fourth on the road at 85.3%. Meanwhile, Arizona's power play is second on the road at 23.9% but dead last at home at 11.6%.
OILERS - The Oilers are healthy
COYOTES - Niklas Hjalmarsson (Upper Body) has been out since November 28 but could potentially return tonight.