AT THE MORNING SKATE:
The Oilers held an optional morning skate Saturday at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ, with 10 skaters plus goalie Devan Dubnyk taking to the ice. After surrendering six goals Friday night in Dallas, Dubnyk will start tonight's game on the bench with Jeff Deslauriers manning the pipes.
Up front, the Oilers will also see a few changes from last game. Head Coach Pat Quinn announced that Patrick O'Sullivan and Robert Nilsson will both draw back into the line-up after being scratched vs. the Stars.
Gilbert Brule's ankle sprain will offset one of the returnees, but a second skater will still have to sit. Quinn said that decision will be a "game-time call."
"[O'Sullivan and Nilsson] were arbitrary I guess in the sense that we had a number of players that we could have drawn from, so we'll just bring them back in and maybe one of the other guys that's had back-to-back difficulties might not play tonight," the coach explained.
SEASON ENDS EARLY FOR BRULE
For Brule, the ankle injury is a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise impressive season. With 17 goals and 37 points in 65 games, the 23-year-old was hoping to close the year with 20 goals but will now have to settle for two crutches and an ankle brace.
"There's only five games left in a week here, so obviously I'm really disappointed," he said outside the locker room while his teammates skated. "I had some goals that I wanted to reach and it's not going to happen anymore."
The sprain was a bit of a fluke but could have been worse, he explained.
"I was just going hard to the net and (Dallas' Brian) Sutherby was coming up hard from behind. He kind of pushed me and I just got my ankle stuck in the goalie's pad and my momentum basically was pushing me over and my ankle just kind of twisted the other way.
"When I first stepped on it, I think my tendon maybe popped a little or something was moving around in there and made me concerned at first, but once we got the x-ray and found out it wasn't broken, then it was good," Brule said.
Quinn said that he has been impressed by Brule's contributions and improvements to date and shares the young forward's disappointment in having to end the season early.
"You like to see kids that are making some progress continue that," Quinn said. "He's had a respectable season, well beyond expectation I think in terms of production, and he was improving in other areas of the game that would help him be a valuable member of our team."
The head coach noted that the incident is just the latest example of the kind of injuries that have plagued the team all season.
"It's just been kind of amazing really the kinds of adverse things that have happened to this group of athletes this year, especially losing bodies like that. We haven't overcome it, that's the bottom line."
WANTED: STRONG START
Something the Oilers hope they won't have to overcome tonight is another poor start. For the past two games, the club has dug themselves a deep hole early on, and although they've battled back on both occasions, a win has remained elusive.
Shawn Horcoff is frustrated by the recent trend and says the Oil need to have a strong start tonight in Phoenix.
"It's frustrating, especially to see the way we responded coming out in the second (in Dallas)," he said. "We controlled the whole second period, scored goals to get us back in the game, and then as equally frustrating, coming out in the third and collapsing, not being able to continue what we had in the second. It was a frustrating game."
OILERS (24-46-7) at COYOTES (47-25-6)
Last 10 -- Edmonton 3-7-0; Phoenix 6-3-1
Season series -- It's the last of the four meetings between the teams. Each team has won once in regulation, and the Coyotes won 5-4 in a shootout at Edmonton on Jan. 5. Phoenix won 6-1 on Feb. 5 in the Oilers' last visit to Jobing.com Arena.
Big story -- The Coyotes looked like a road-weary team in Vancouver on Tuesday in a lackluster 4-1 loss, but showed a little more spark in a 2-1 loss at Calgary the next night. Getting back-to-back days off should give some life to a team that has spent most of the last three weeks on the road -- and one that hasn't been nearly as sharp over the last week or so since clinching the franchise's first playoff berth since 2002. They're also catching the Oilers in the second game of a back-to-back at the end of a four-game trip.
Oilers -- These are tough times in Edmonton, where the Oilers are already assured of finishing last in the overall standings and likely to end up with the worst record in franchise history. They managed three goals in Dallas on Friday to overcome a 3-0 deficit, but surrendered three more and left with a 6-3 loss, their fourth in a row.
"Not a very good start, but a hard comeback," coach Pat Quinn said. "Still, the goals that were given up were sorry goals. It's frustrating that we haven't been able to kind of stem that tide, with the types of goals that have been going in on us. The front of the net is easy meat for anybody we play."
Coyotes -- Phoenix is 1-3-1 since locking up its playoff berth, and GM Don Maloney isn't thrilled about what he's seen from the NHL's most surprising team -- and he wants to make sure they're not happy just to be back in the postseason. They're currently fourth in the West and trying to hold off Detroit and Nashville and keep the home-ice edge for the opening round.
"We're not satisfied just to pat ourselves on the back," Maloney told the team's Web site. "I know we've had a good season to date and we've set some franchise records, and that's great and wonderful and all that. But really, it's meaningless come early April when we wipe the slates clean."
Who's hot -- Lee Stempniak had the Coyotes' lone goal on Wednesday, completing a 13-goal month of March in the 14 games after he came to Phoenix from Toronto at the trade deadline.
Injury report -- Edmonton forward Gilbert Brule sustained a right ankle sprain in the first period and didn't return. He was on crutches after the game. Sam Gagner has missed the Oilers' last four games with a hip injury. … Coyotes center Robert Lang is still out with a lower-body injury that has cost him nearly a month.
Stat pack -- Edmonton has dropped four straight overall and nine in a row on the road. … Phoenix's average goals per game has risen from 2.53 to 2.71 since Stempniak's arrival 4 1/2 weeks ago.
Puck drop -- A visit from the NHL's last-place team could be just what the Coyotes need to get revved up again as they try to hang onto fourth place in the West.