COYOTES 4 - OILERS 2 The Oilers orchestrated a strong third-period push to pull within one on goals by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Theo Peckham, but the Coyotes pushed back, doubling-up the Oilers 4-2 Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ.
Devan Dubnyk got the start in goal, posting 27 saves in the loss.
AT THE MORNING SKATE In search of the team's seventh straight win, the Oilers bussed 30-minutes to the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale to begin the second game day morning of a marathon six-game road trip.
The Oilers' 20-minute skate saw little in the way of surprises, as Cam Barker and Ales Hemsky, who pondered a return tonight, remain out; but Nikolai Khabibulin, who's posted a 0.98 goals-against average and .963 save percentage, will sit as Devan Dubnyk makes his fifth start of the season.
Since returning to the lineup on Oct. 22 vs. New York, Sam Gagner has been the Oilers' good luck charm. The team has yet to lose a game and, in the same stretch, he's increased his ice-time in each outing, extending to a season-high 18:48 played at Staples Center in the most recent win.
Having recorded two assists in his last three games, the 22-year-old [natural] centre is pleased with his six-game start.
"The last three games, I feel like I've played a lot better," Gagner said. "I feel better out there, I've been creating chances, I've been in the right spots and I've been getting my timing and legs back. I want to continue to grow from here."
Gagner, alongside Eric Belanger and Magnus Paajarvi, is his unit's leading scorer in a time when production across all four lines has become crucial. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle can't do it alone.
"The last couple games, [our line has] created a lot. Especially in LA we had some chances and we've just got to continue to have our foot on the gas. We're going to need some secondary scoring going forward here, and it's important for us if we're going to win.
"It's got to be on all four lines and I think for our line, we've got to keep developing that chemistry and we'll go from there."
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
No. 91 has some extra incentive to perform tonight, as his mother, who's seen her son play in about 10 NHL games back in Edmonton, will be up in the stands watching along with nine other Oilers moms.
"She doesn't know how it is on the road, and how we live on the road and how fortunate we are with all the things around us," Paajarvi said. "It's really neat to share that with them. Thanks to the Oilers for giving us an opportunity to really show them how it is, because they're the biggest reason why a lot of players are in this dressing room and play for this team. You can't forget that."
Head Coach Tom Renney agreed, added that the moms have been a nice addition to an otherwise challenging six-game trip.
"They're worse," he laughed when referencing the dads' trip from a year ago. "It's really good. We had a really nice night with them last night, a little reception with them and had a good visit. All the players spoke a little bit about their moms and what they mean to them.
"It takes you back. It makes you understand why you're here and how you got here. It's really good to have them, they're enthusiastic and energetic."
EXTENDING THE STREAK
The Oilers will be up against one of the league's most-improved PK units in tonight's matchup. The Coyotes have secured an 87-percent success-rate through 12 games, but have killed 37 of the opponents' last 40 chances.
As Renney explains, it's a matter of "working harder."
"Some nights your power-play has those tendencies not to work hard, and I thought the other night we tried to force things; we started standing around and we got a little frustrated instead of working harder."
"We were a little disorganized last game," Tom Gilbert added. "I think the support wasn't as good as it has been in the past few games; supporting each other better, moving the puck in small areas and the simplest thing is getting pucks to the net as much as you can, and we weren't doing that enough."
Tom Gilbert has averaged 24:50 in TOI this season, continuing last season's mean (24:30), in the absence of Ryan Whitney and others. The 28-year-old has excelled in this role and is thrilled with how he's been able to help the team.
"You've got to make the most of it," he said. [Ladislav Smid and I] have been doing great. We're out there communicating well and working well together."
Gilbert, who's racked up one goal and four points in the team's 12 games, is also heating up. A pair of assists by No. 77 in the Oilers' last two games (and wins) has helped the team overcome some middling scoring concerns.
Still, it's a team game and one that the Oilers are keen to massage.
"Last game we played a really good road game," Gilbert said. "It was simple, our turnovers were pretty low and we got pucks deep, which is so huge when you're on the road; you don't get the changes you want, so you've got to keep the game as simple as possible."
"We can't take a single opponent lightly," Renney added in regards to tonight's game against a Phoenix squad that sits 6-4-2, ninth in the west. "We were the 30th-placed team last season and these guys weren't. I think [Phoenix is] better than their record and we better be ready for it."
Gagner, who will be looking to shoulder (at least part of) the load tonight at evens and on the power-play, is ready to go in what promises to be an exciting clash on Hockey Night in Canada.
"We've got to stick to our game," he said. "They're a pretty systematic team and they play the right way. We have to continue having our good habits and continue growing as a group and if we do that, we'll hopefully come out with a win."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick