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AT THE MORNING SKATE
SCOTTSDALE - After arriving in the sunny and mild, not-so-wintry Arizona desert Tuesday afternoon, the Oilers took to the ice for an optional 11:00AM morning skate at the Arcadia Ice Arena in Scottsdale (45 minutes east of the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale).
Head Coach Ralph Krueger did not participate and assistant coaches Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith did not run lines in the 30 minutes of on-ice activity. It’s expected that the line combinations that produced a power-play-driven 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche Monday will be maintained.
Edmonton-born defenceman Mark Fistric, who has been a healthy scratch in three games this season, could be out again tonight. He was the last player on the ice during the optional session, along with Darcy Hordichuk and Theo Peckham, but did have several conversions with the coaches throughout.
His status won’t be known until warm up.
“At the moment, we're going to keep our lineup a secret until game time,” Krueger said. “We feel great about the seven defencemen we currently have that are fit to play right now. We’re going to leave the forward lines the same, but let’s leave some surprises.”
Yann Danis cleared waivers this morning and has been assigned to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons. As a result, as Krueger explains, Nikolai Khabibulin has been activated and will dress as the backup to Devan Dubnyk tonight.
“He’s been cleared to play. We wouldn’t put him in this position if he couldn't play. Now we can move forward game-to-game with what we feel is the best thing for the team.
“For tonight, that's Devan Dubnyk.”
STRUGGLING IN GLENDALE
Edmonton has only one win (4-3 on Jan. 25, 2011) in its last six visits to the Jobing.com Arena. So far in 2012-13, the Oilers have yet to produce a winning streak and have put together a 1-1-0 record on the road. As Krueger explains, the lessons learned in both have been well received.
“We didn’t give [Vancouver] much in our season opener -- it was a puck management game that allowed us to win. That puck management completely deserted us in Calgary, but we learned from it. There were great conversations that came out of that game: What we need to do on the road, how to manage the puck better and how much more patience we need to have on the road, as opposed to at home when you maybe try to do a little bit more and play for the crowd.”
The Northwest Division-leading Oilers come into tonight’s matchup with the League’s hottest power-play. On 28 opportunities this season the Oilers have scored 10 goals, split almost identically between the club’s No. 1 and No. 2 units. As a result and led in large part by Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, the orange and blue have vaulted to an NHL-best, 35.7-percent success rate.
Considering the Coyotes are averaging 3.5 goals per game (and are giving them up at nearly the same rate), goals in any situation are crucial. Chances are if the Oilers are going to have success against the stingy, Dave Tippet-coached Coyotes, special teams will only be part of the equation. The Oilers have generated little at even-strength this season, but the coach isn’t focusing on it.
“We've liked the compete level in both road games this year,” Krueger said. “We didn't play the proper concept in Calgary, but we're on a good course. Phoenix is as well organized, structured and coached a team as there is in the National Hockey League. They've had success on that team foundation. We need to be very good in all our zones, be extremely disciplined and play a full 60 minutes to get some points out of this building.”
THAT OLD CLICHE
Although the Oilers rebounded well from Saturday’s loss in the Battle of Alberta with a one-sided 4-1 win over the Avalanche, it wasn’t a Picasso. Up 3-0 on the scoreboard, the Oilers were outshot 24-6 in the third period. Colorado’s PA Parenteau scored one to help spearhead a comeback attempt, but Dubnyk was sound in making 23 third-period saves en route the win.
“Ralph's been great about letting us know what's expected of us and communicating it,” said Sam Gagner, who picked up a pair of assists in Monday's win. “Phoenix plays hockey the right way. Against a team like them, you really have to make sure you're playing simple and doing things the right way. They really make you pay when you turn the puck over. It's easy to do that against them, so we need to make sure we don't fall into that trap.
“As long as we play the system that’s in place and stick to it for a full 60 minutes, we’re going to have success.”
Veteran defenceman Nick Schultz echoed Gagner’s thoughts. While the Oilers have been up and down, hot and cold and everything in between in the opening week, he believes the club has learned something from every circumstance and situation made available to them.
Now is as good a time as any to bring it all together in an unusually hostile road environment.
“It’s a matter of getting a consistent game going on the road,” he said. “Sometimes that’s easier to do because you don’t have the pressure of being at home. In the past, it was a little harder to win on the road and now it’s evened out a little bit. Teams come in to other buildings with less pressure on them now and don’t worry about being as fancy.
“(Jobing.com Arena) is a tough building to come play in. It doesn’t necessarily have the same atmosphere as other buildings do, so we want to use that to our advantage. We've got to make sure we get pucks in and play in their end, utilizing our strength and our speed.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
OILERS (3-2-0) at COYOTES (2-4-0)
TV: FS-A PLUS
Season series: This is the first of three meetings this season between the two clubs. Edmonton didn’t fare too well against Phoenix last season, going 0-3-1 against the eventual Pacific Division champions.
Big story: Entering a run that will see them play five of their next seven contests on the road, the Oilers are looking to build on their hot play of late. The Coyotes, on the other hand, are in the middle of a period that will see them play six of seven at home. They're hoping to move on from a slow start to their season following a 4-0 win over Nashville on Monday night.
Oilers: While the young Oilers appear to still be learning how to harness their talent to produce wins, there aren't many teams in the NHL who are as exciting to watch. That's particularly true of their power play, which is scoring at a 35.7 percent clip, the second-highest rate in the League.
That unit was on full display Monday night against Colorado as the Oilers scored all four of their goals with the man advantage on their way to a 4-1 win.
But the Edmonton power play wasn't the sole reason for the victory. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk had one of his best outings of the young season, stopping 37 of 38 shots against an Avalanche team that had won two of its previous three games.
"Our power play was clicking," said Jordan Eberle, who is one of four Oilers players with two power-play goals this season. "We were a little hesitant five-on-five and are struggling a bit, but when your power play is clicking, it helps a lot."
Coyotes: After starting the season 1-4-0, the Coyotes went with a change in net Monday night against Nashville, as Chad Johnson saw his first NHL action since March 31, 2011, when he replaced Henrik Lundqvist in a 6-2 Rangers loss to the Islanders. Necessitated by the recent injury to starter Mike Smith, Johnson got his first NHL start since Jan. 31, 2010 and stopped all 21 shots he faced on his way to his first career shutout.
After slumping early on this season, Phoenix made sure to give Johnson an early lead, with Antoine Vermette opening the scoring just three minutes into the match. Keith Yandle provided a goal and two assists to break out of a three-game pointless slump to give the Coyotes an important win.
"It was an easy game, and I had a lot of help. I wanted to help the team win and the opportunity was there tonight," Johnson said. "I wasn't nervous, but I didn't know what to expect because it's been a while since I've been in NHL action."
Who's hot: The Oilers' offense has been led by Taylor Hall, who has a point in every game so far this season and leads the team with seven. Eberle has goals in consecutive games and leads the team with three. … Oliver Ekman-Larsson has helped to pace the Coyotes attack, registering five points in his last four games. Wing Lauri Korpikoski also has two goals in his last three contests.
Injury report: Edmonton has numerous players on IR, including Ben Eager (concussion), Ryan Jones (eye), Theo Peckham (hip), Nikolai Khabibulin (hip) and Andy Sutton (knee). … Smith, who is on IR with a lower-body injury, is the main absentee Coyote, but the team is also missing Matthew Lombardi (upper body) and Rostislav Klesla (lower body) as well as Raffi Torres, who is still serving a suspension.