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AT THE MORNING SKATE:
The Oilers were a bit revamped during Monday's morning skate at Jobing.com Arena, but rather than opting for a youthful makeover, the club was a little bit more experienced, especially on the blue line. After missing 10 and eight games respectively due to concussions, defencemen Steve Staios and Ladislav Smid will return to the line-up tonight vs. the Coyotes.
"I'm really excited," Smid said after the skate. "It's been almost three weeks since I played the last game, and I just feel 100% and really excited to be back in the line-up."
"When you sit up there (in the press box) the game looks really simple, but on the ice it's a different story. It's always fast. I watched six games, I think it was, and I hope it's going to help me sort out the game."
Smid is expected to be paired with Lubomir Visnovsky tonight, while Staios should skate with Jason Strudwick. As a result of the players' return, youngsters Taylor Chorney and Alex Plante were reassigned to the AHL's Springfield Falcons Sunday afternoon.
BRULE & NILSSON BACK IN
Another two players who are looking forward to seeing some game action tonight are Gilbert Brule and Robert Nilsson. The forwards were healthy scratches for the past few games and are eager to put the experience behind them.
"Obviously I'm very excited to be back in the line-up -- that's where I want to be, and I've just got to treat it like any other game and give it my best foot forward," Brule said. "I think [the coaches] just want me to go out and play my game, be more consistent. I think that's the key. I need to get more shots on net, I need to get hits, I need to skate. That's my game."
Brule will play with Ryan Potulny and Patrick O'Sullivan tonight, and he had only good things to say about his linemates.
"It's a great line we're playing; we have a lot of speed," he said. "Pots (Potulny) is a really smart defensive player, and we can all score goals, we can all make plays, and we all work hard."
Nilsson is expected to skate with Dustin Penner and Marc Pouliot.
"Bobby is one of those guys that you spot, you see the potential for big plays, and you hope that you find the consistency that you'd like to have there," Head Coach Pat Quinn said. "Bru, when he was healthy, he was playing quite well for us and is our third scorer I think still, even though he's missed a bunch of games."
GAGNER RETURNS HOME
After aggravating his knee Saturday night in Colorado, Sam Gagner made the trip to Phoenix with the team but will fly back to Edmonton today for assessment.
"I hurt my knee a couple of weeks ago and it's just been bugging me and getting worse," he explained. "I just tweaked it a couple times, so Kenny (Lowe, Oilers Head Athletic Therapist) pulled me and we talked about maybe going back and getting this done.
"If there's nothing structurally wrong, I'm going to maybe revisit the team in Anaheim (on Wednesday) and play there, and obviously if there's something wrong, get that fixed so it will be good going into the (Olympic) break."
ODD MAN OUT UNKNOWN
With Brule and Nilsson back in, and Gagner out, the Oilers must scratch another forward tonight. After the morning skate, Quinn still wasn't sure who that would be.
"My list is probably one of six, so I haven't finished spinning the wheel yet," he said.
OILERS (18-33-6) at COYOTES (35-19-5)
Last 10: Edmonton 2-7-1; Phoenix 7-3-0
Season Series: Third of four meetings this season. The teams have split a pair of games at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Jeff Deslauriers stopped all 36 shots for his first career shutout as the Oilers won 4-0 on Nov. 23. Shane Doan scored twice, including a power-play goal 1:37 into overtime, to give the Coyotes a 5-4 win on Jan. 5.
Big Story: Their six-game winning streak came to an end Saturday in Dallas, but coach Dave Tippett has the Coyotes in excellent position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002. In fact, Phoenix begins play Monday tied for fourth in the Western Conference with Pacific Division rival Los Angeles, in the battle for home ice in the first round.
Oilers: This is the midway point in a five-game road trip for Edmonton, which dropped the first two in Minnesota and Colorado. Like many of its losses this season, the Oilers saw the opportunity for a better fate Saturday, trailing just 1-0 into the latter stages of the third period. But they would fall 3-0 as the Avalanche added two late goals, one an empty-netter.
"We compete well with some teams for a while, then we disappear," Pat Quinn said. "As a coach you start thinking we should have 15, 16 more wins based on how we've played some nights, but we don't. That margin between winning and losing is eluding us right now. We find ways to lose, not ways to win."
Coyotes: Four of the six victories in the Phoenix win streak came on the road, but the Coyotes have also taken their last three at Jobing.com Arena, where the fans are starting to flock again as they realize their team is for real. A near sellout crowd watched their 3-2 win over the Rangers on Jan. 30. After beating the Central Division-leading Blackhawks on Friday, the Coyotes ran out of gas in a 4-0 loss to the Stars on Saturday.
"Our whole group looked tired tonight without a doubt," Tippett said. "(Friday) night's game took a huge toll on us. We went to overtime, then late travel. And you've got a fresh team sitting here, you know they're going to come hard at you."
Who's Hot: In his past five starts in the Edmonton net, Deslauriers recorded a 1-0 shutout against Philadelphia, the second of his career, and allowed two goals in three others. … Phoenix counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov had won four straight prior to Saturday's defeat, including a shutout against Nashville, his career-high sixth of the season.
Injury Report: The Oilers have a lengthy list of banged-up bodies, though defensemen Steve Staios and Ladislav Smid are possibilities to be activated Monday. Both suffered concussions. Forward Sam Gagner is day-to-day with a knee injury. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (back), defenseman Sheldon Souray (hand) and forwards Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and Ryan Stone (knee) are all on injured reserve.
Coyotes forward Scottie Upshall injured his right knee and will miss the rest of the season, while defenseman Kurt Sauer (head) is also out.
Stat Pack: Edmonton has lost nine straight on the road, all in regulation, since a 5-3 win in St. Louis on Dec. 11. That ties a franchise record originally set in 2007. … Phoenix is 21-8-2 at home this season, including 15-3-2 in its last 20 at Jobing.com Arena.
Puck Drop: Both teams come off shutout losses and are in the bottom third of the League in offense. But the Coyotes have been the far more defensively sound team this season, and the proof is in the standings.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com