GLENDALE, AZ - Heading into tonight's game on a roll with three straight wins, the Oilers know they can't take their opponent lightly. The Oilers have had next to zero success against the Coyotes over the last five or six seasons with no regulation wins - and only four wins total - in their last 23 games against the Coyotes (Arizona is 19-0-4 versus the Oilers).
"The Coyotes are a very good hockey club and are playing some good hockey right now," Oilers head coach Todd McLellan cautioned. "Our approach is that in the past this is a team that's cleaned our clock. We haven't played well against them, we haven't found any type of success as far as getting any type of points in large part due to us beating ourselves. And I mean that respectfully because I don't think Phoenix ever beats themselves. The other team has to take the game from them and we've done a poor job managing it."
That last regulation win came on January 25, 2011.
"This is a big opportunity for our team to play the game and to see if we can manage the game properly to give us an opportunity to have success," McLellan continued.
One thing the Oilers do have going for them is the fact that their historic lack of success in certain buildings around the League hasn't impeded winning in any way with victories in Detroit, New York Islanders and Dallas among others.
"Unfortunately, that's kind of been the narrative in a lot of buildings that we haven't had a lot of success. We've proved that wrong on different occasions this year," said forward Mark Letestu. "This is another one of those steps for us as a group. We feel this is a team we need to beat. If we belong in the playoffs like we think we do, these are games we have to have. The record against these guys over the past five years is nowhere near good enough and we know that. But this group is confident the way we've been playing. If we put that game out there, I think we're going to have a good result."
POULIOT AND LETESTU DRAW IN
Despite having won their last three games, the Oilers are making a couple of changes to their lineup. Benoit Pouliot and Mark Letestu both return to the lineup with Anton Slepyshev and Matt Hendricks drawing out.
Klefbom - Larsson Sekera - Russell Nurse - Benning
And Cam Talbot gets the start in goal.
Benoit Pouliot was asked about getting the opportunity to get back in tonight in Arizona.
"The past three games have been going very well for us. It's (been) tough for me to get back in the lineup. I just want to help the team out and do what I can," he said.
In a bit of a twist, Pouliot will be playing the right side as opposed to the left which is his natural position.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment," Pouliot noted. "Everything feels like it's on the wrong side. Just opening up or making a pass on your backhand is a little different but I've played there a few games before in the past so I'll get used to it pretty quick, I think."
Letestu talked about not wanting to upset the team's momentum that they've gained over the last three outings.
"It's exciting," he said about getting back in. "I think any time you sit out a stretch of games, it gives you a chance to evaluate and watch from up top. There's always learning experiences from every situation. I took it as one of those, to see where I've been good and where I've been bad.
"The team's going well so you don't want to be the bad luck or anything like that. You want to come in and make sure you're adding right away to what's been a pretty productive lineup the last three games."
Coach McLellan expects a solid performance out of both forwards coming in.
"We'll get good game from both of them," McLellan began. "I feel really good about that. (Letestu) didn't come out due to his performance. It was an opportunity to put some younger players and returning players back in and try to get different ingredients into the lineup. (Pouliot) has had a chance to reflect and take inventory. He'll have a great night, too."
The addition of both players means that Matt Hendricks and Anton Slepyshev both draw out. The difficult decision was Hendricks as a veteran and leader on the team but McLellan made sure to point out that the coaching staff wants to decide who plays based on merit when at all possible.
"The easy thing to do as a staff is to continually pull out the rookies or young guys but if they're performing and they have good nights, they deserve the opportunity to go back in," he stated. "It's not always a reflection of what the veterans aren't doing, sometimes it's a reflection of what the younger players are getting done. It's a hard thing for an organization or a staff to do. It's hard for veteran players to accept, but that's part of being on the team. Different nights, different players are picked to go and get the job done. When your number is called, you have to be prepared and ready to go."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (12-8-1) at COYOTES (6-10-2)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet Oilers
Tonight marks the first of five meetings between the Oilers and Coyotes this season and the first of two games in Arizona. The next time these teams will face off is on November 27th in Edmonton.
The last time these teams met was on March 22nd in Arizona, where the Coyotes won by a score of 4-2. Jordan Eberle and Mark Letestu scored for the Oilers, while Connor McDavid assisted on both goals.
Oilers team scope:
Connor McDavid remains in top spot in NHL scoring through Wednesday's games, with three more points (1G, 2A) in a 6-3 win over Colorado. McDavid now has 27 points (9G, 18A) in 21 games.
In his last three games, McDavid has earned eight points (4G, 4A), including his first career NHL hat trick on Nov. 19 in Dallas.
McDavid also leads the NHL in assists (18), multi-point games (8) and 3-point games (five). He is also tied for fifth place among all NHL forwards in average ice time (21:01).
Goaltender Cam Talbot reached 11 wins this season vs. Colorado on Nov. 23. One season ago, in 2015-16, Talbot's 11th win came on Feb. 4, 2016 in Ottawa. That was also the 51st game of the season for Edmonton.
Talbot has three shutouts, which matches his season total from 2015-16, when his third shutout came on March 18, vs. Vancouver.
Talbot continues to rank among the NHL's goaltending leaders in several categories, tied for first with 11 wins, ranking first in minutes played (1,128:48), first in shots faced (581) and saves (534).
Coyotes team scope:
The Coyotes have picked up at least a point on the Oilers in 23 straight games (19-0-4) and only one regulation loss in their last 29 against Edmonton (24-1-4).
However, Arizona has struggled this season. They only have one win in their last six games -- a 3-2 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks this past Saturday. Overall, they sit last in the Western Conference with 14 points.
Max Domi leads the way in scoring with 13 points this season through 18 games, though he only has two goals. Radim Vrbata has six goals and 12 points in 18 contests.
At 91.3%, Arizona has the fourth-best penalty kill in the NHL on home ice.
Arizona will be wearing their late 90s era black "Phoenix Coyotes" jerseys tonight.