The last time the Edmonton Oilers and the Phoenix Coyotes faced off, it was an offensive track meet with the Oilers coming out on the losing end of a 5-4 decision. It was also the beginning of the 'dark times' for the Oilers. It was their second-straight loss to launch a streak in which they won just one of 11 games. It's a different feel in the Oilers dressing room heading into the rematch. The team has won five of their last seven and is learning to win even when the team doesn't play their best game.
Exhibit A; the Oilers game on Sunday night against the Dallas Stars. The Oilers, despite early struggles, battled back to tie the game at two with just over five minutes remaining. They'd hold on to get the shootout win, earning two points and gaining confidence.
"I used the word after the game in Dallas; resiliency," said Oilers forward Ryan Jones. "That's what we showed. Sometimes it's a matter of a game not going your way. The longer you stick around and the longer you give yourself a chance to win, the better (off you're going to be). It's a matter of, another cliche, bending and not breaking. We easily could have given up and said, 'it's not going our way tonight'. But, we continued to play hard and stick around and in the end, we got two points. At the end of the year, we have to look at the wins and say, ' that was a good one, that was a bad one. We won this one, 5-1'. It's two points, no matter what."
The Oilers finished their road trip over the weekend with two of three wins.
Edmonton will look to carry their recent success into tonight's game against Phoenix. The Oilers have a 34-17-3-9 all-time record against the Coyotes, including a 19-7-2-4 home record. Despite their past success against the visitors from the south, the Oilers are 0-1 this season against them and will not take them lightly.
"They're a good team," said defenceman Nick Schultz. "They're very well coached. They play a really structured game. They've got some big bodies, some big guys up front, that can make plays but the biggest thing is they're a patient team, they stick with their systems, stick with their game plan and do well on the power play and capitalize on their situations. You've got to be patient team against them. We've got to try to take the play to them, move the puck up and get our forwards moving, cycling and try to create some opportunities."
The Oilers will look to get off to a quick start tonight to hamper Phoenix's ability to dictate the pace of play.
"We're just looking for a good start," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "We want to get a good start. It's important in this league. If you score first, and then you go up by two especially, it's hard for the other team to come back."
JONES EARNS PROMOTION
One of the bright spots in the Oilers 3-2 shootout win in Dallas on Sunday was Ryan Jones. The winger played very well, earning promotion from his previous fourth-line duties to seeing action with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. He was instrumental on a game-tying goal in Dallas on Sunday.
That line will again be on display tonight.
"I thought (Jones) found a little chemistry with (Gagner) and Hemsky last game," said Oilers Coach Eakins. "I think it's not a very intelligent thing to ignore it. That's at least how we start with him up there. He's doing all of the things that we've asked him. We want him to be hard on the body, we want him to be in on the forecheck, we want him to do the heavy lifting, mostly for his line and he's done that…"
It is Jones' roll to free up his new line mates to be creative with the puck.
"It's a question that seems to come up every year," said Jones. "What kind of game am I going to play with two more skilled guys? I think every time, I say the same thing. I'm going to get them the puck and I'm going to go to the net. That's the dynamic that I think is going to be the most beneficial to our line, if I bring that. Those guys are obviously creative in handling the puck. They make things happen. If I can create a little bit of space by backing the (defence) off, that's going to go a long way for them."
Oilers rookie forward Tyler Pitlick skated with the team during their morning skate today. He has not played since the last time the Oilers and Coyotes squared off on October 26. After scoring his first career NHL goal, Pitlick would leave the game with a knee injury.
Though an injury to a young player can be mentally taxing, Pitlick has gone through the recovery process with injuries in the past and is ready to return, his confidence at a high level.
"I've always came back from injuries and played better, just as good or better than I was when I got hurt," said Pitlick. "It's because you miss the game. You haven't been playing and you come back with a little extra edge. You want to play."
Pitlick, who has been skating on his own for two weeks, says he hopes to be fully cleared to play by the weekend.
The Oilers Head Coach provided an injury update on three of the team's players, after practice.
"(Ilya) Bryzgalov's not well enough to dress," said Eakins. "Obviously we called up (Jason LaBarbera)… (Boyd) Gordon is not good enough to go, so he'll be out. (Philip) Larsen looks to be getting very close now, but he won't play."
Coach Eakins says that Bryzgalov has the 'symptoms that go with a concussion or whiplash' and he gave no timeline for his return.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
COYOTES (15-7-4) at OILERS (9-17-2)
TV: FS-A PLUS, SNET-W
Last 10: Phoenix 4-4-2; Edmonton 5-5-0
Season series: The Phoenix Coyotes scored twice in the final 10 minutes for a 5-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 26, triggering a five-game winning streak. The Coyotes are 12-2-2 against their new Pacific Division foe under coach Dave Tippett.
Big story: The Coyotes are coming off a season-worst 1-3-1 stretch to end November. Phoenix and struggling goaltender Mike Smith will look to rebound as they kick off a four-game road trip.
The Oilers doubled their season point total to 20 with a recent 5-2-0 stretch but remain at the bottom of the Western Conference. Edmonton hopes to build on that momentum during a five-game homestand at Rexall Place.
Coyotes: Phoenix will need faster starts if it hopes to shake its recent skid. The Coyotes have scored one first-period goal in the past five games (in a win against the Minnesota Wild), falling into deep holes in losses to the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and, on Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Against the Blackhawks, the Coyotes took two penalties in the first 1:14 and found themselves down 3-0 at the first intermission. Phoenix cut into the lead with two goals in the second period, but Chicago responded with two goals in the third on its way to 5-2 victory. The Coyotes are 0-2-1 in their past three home games after starting 9-0-1.
"You can push back after 3-0, but let's start the game on time," Tippett said. "That's frustrating. It's so foreign from how you want to play if you're going to be able to compete with a team like that. It's almost inconceivable we could do it, but we did."
Smith is on a prolonged cold streak. He has allowed at least three goals in six consecutive games for the first time in his NHL career, which spans 286 appearances.
Oilers: Edmonton has slowly begun to turn things around. The Oilers have five wins in seven games, a streak that includes a 7-0 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets and, most recently, a hard-fought shootout win against the Dallas Stars. Edmonton twice erased one-goal deficits against the Stars on Sunday, and David Perron's shootout stunner sealed it for the Oilers.
"I think in order to be a good hockey team, you have to show some resiliency because things aren't always going to go your way," said forward Ryan Jones.
The Oilers are 1-for-25 on the power play over the past five games. The Oilers give up 30.5 shots per game, 45 to the Stars. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who had started the past three games and recorded a shutout against the Nashville Predators, is being assessed after leaving the game against Dallas with an upper-body injury.
Who's hot: Coyotes leading scorer Martin Hanzal has a goal and two assists over a three-game point streak. … Oilers wing Jordan Eberle scored in the shootout against Dallas and has a goal and two assists over the past three games.
Injury report: Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body) is questionable, and wing Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) is out. They will join Phoenix on the road, and Tippett said Korpikoski could return at some point on the trip. … Oilers center Boyd Gordon (upper body) is doubtful and defenseman Philip Larsen (back) remains sidelined.