EDMONTON, AB - Tonight, Edmonton hosts the Phoenix Coyotes, who hold a 3-0 record against the Oilers this season. The Coyotes have slipped recently in the standings, going 3-7-0 in their last ten games. The Oilers fully expect their guests to put their forward their best effort tonight.
“They’re going to be a desperate team for sure,” said Oilers Ryan Smyth. “They’re on the cusp there, but they’re going to come with intensity. We’ve got to make sure we match that and play like we did against Vancouver and hopefully we don’t run up against another hot goaltender.”
Phoenix has lost five straight on the road.
YAK IS BACK
Oilers winger Nail Yakupov returns to the lineup after leaving the January 16, game in Minnesota with concussions symptoms. Yakupov is excited to be back in the lineup.
“I feel awesome,” he said. “It’s real hard not playing and I just watched from upstairs a couple of games. I’m okay now and ready to go tonight.”
The forward says the injury wasn’t that bad and the missing of games was precautionary.
“It wasn’t that bad actually, just the doctors wanted me to take a little break and just be ready for the game tonight and that’s it. I got practice and I’ve been skating. I think I’m ready to go.”
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins talked about Yakupov’s return to the lineup and says that he won’t be checking in with his player during the game. He knows he’s ready to play.
“I won’t check in at all,” Eakins said. “He’s been, believe me, checked over, tested and all that protocol is very thorough and they don’t even come close to clearing a guy unless he’s 100% ready. I have no concerns about it at all. As soon as (the doctor) tells me the guy’s cleared and he’s ready, then I know he’s ready. He’ll just go in and play as he does.”
As for limiting Yakupov’s ice time, Eakins says that, like every player, his ice time will be performance based.
“We’ll put him right in and like any of the players, we’ll see how he’s going. We’ve got him right back in his spot over there on the power play. His minutes will be on how the game is going and how he’s playing… It’s not, let’s see how he is. It’s, he’s been cleared and he’s ready then we’ll play him and it will be ice time earned.”
POWER PLAY PRACTICE
The Oilers worked a little on their power play during today’s morning skate and the team hopes to carry their improvement over from their previous game against Vancouver.
“We had a good power play the other night, we just didn’t get rewarded for it,” said defenceman Justin Schultz. “I think we’re getting back to the basics of just shooting the puck, good entry, outworking their penalty kill and we’e got to bring that tonight and hopefully get rewarded.”
Ryan Smyth added, “As a group, I think that’s what we tried to work on and I think that’s what coach set out. Just execute on a few different areas, obviously special teams was one of them.”
The Oilers currently rank 20th in the league on the man advantage with a 17.7 conversion rate. Edmonton leads the league in shorthanded goals allowed with nine.
The two power play units on the ice this morning were Taylor Hall with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz, while the second unit is expected to be David Perron, Sam Gagner, Mark Arcobello (in for Ales Hemsky), Nail Yakupov and Martin Marincin.
Marincin is a 21-year-old rookie and has always been an offensive defenceman. With Prince George in 2010-2011, he scored eight power play goals in a year in which he scored 56 points (14-42-56). He also had 30 points (7-23-30) last season with the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL. The defenceman is excited about playing on the Oilers power play.
“Yeah, for sure,” said the native Slovakian. “I love to play on the power play. It’s good for me and we’ll see tonight in the game.
“(My role is to) just make good passes out there, play simple and shoot pucks.”
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
COYOTES (23-18-9) at OILERS (15-31-6)
TV: FS-A PLUS, SNET-W
Last 10: Phoenix 3-7-0; Edmonton 2-7-1
Season series: This is the fourth of five games between the Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. The Coyotes won the first three, most recently rallying for a 4-3 overtime win at Jobing.com Arena on New Year's Eve.
Big story: With the second-worst record in the NHL, first-year Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins acknowledged this week that his job may be in jeopardy.
"I firmly know that if I can't get this group going very soon, that it could be me. But if I wasn't up to the challenge, and I didn't like it, I would step down or I would have never left my other job. I'm fine with that," he told reporters.
But Eakins, who is the Oilers' fifth coach in six years, says continuity is important for a young team.
"There's been change year after year after year in my position, and I think that gets players spinning. … I think it's extremely important that we stay the course here system-wise," he said.
Coyotes: Phoenix lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. It was the Coyotes' sixth loss in the past eight games and their fifth straight on the road (0-3-2).
The Coyotes have scored seven goals during their five-game road losing streak.
Three veterans who have struggled to produce offensively, whether at Jobing.com Arena or on the road, are Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan. Vrbata has not scored a goal in 13 games. Ribeiro scored a goal Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has four goals in his past 20 games. Doan scored Wednesday to snap a seven-game goalless drought.
General manager Don Maloney expects more from the Coyotes' veteran players.
"We just need more from our top players, and I think they would say that themselves," Maloney told the Arizona Republic. "Generally speaking, your veteran, top players get paid the most, and that's their job to produce points and help us win."
The game is the second of a three-game Western Canada road trip that concludes Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Oilers: Edmonton has lost five straight games (0-4-1), the most recent a 2-1 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks in Ben Scrivens' first game in goal for the Oilers at Rexall Place. They have scored 10 goals during the slide.
Eakins wants his team to be more aggressive against Phoenix to generate more offense.
"We're trying to slowly ramp up our system play to be more aggressive," Eakins said after practice Thursday. "That will be the plan against Phoenix. Phoenix is a team that has annually seemed to check very well, but a team that they kind of sit back in the weeds a lot and they wait for you to make a mistake and they jump on it, then they go back and sit in the weeds and wait for the next one to come along. We have to be guarded with that. But the thing I struggle with is I don't want us to play so guarded that we're just coming in and dumping in pucks and playing a sit-back game. We're not built very well to play that kind of game."
It's not clear if Scrivens, a 27-year-old Spruce Grove, Alberta, native, acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 15 in exchange for a third-round draft pick, or former Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov will be in net against Phoenix.
Who's hot: Coyotes center Antoine Vermette has three goals in the past five games. … Oilers forward Jordan Eberle has scored a goal in three straight games.
Injury report: Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (lower body) and defenseman David Schlemko (upper body) are day-to-day. Both missed the game Wednesday. … Edmonton forwards Ales Hemsky (left ankle) and Nail Yakupov (concussion) and defenseman Philip Larsen (illness) have returned to practice. Hemsky, who has missed three games, is doubtful for the game. Yakupov, who has missed two games, still has to pass mandatory concussion tests. Larsen, who has not played since Dec. 19 and remains on injured reserve, is considered day-to-day.