If history shows us anything, then the Oilers have a great chance of winning tonight. The Oilers are 21-6-3 in their last 21 home games against the Coyotes, but in most of the seasons the Oilers were better in the standings.
The Coyotes come to town tonight with four more wins and six more points than the Oilers, but the biggest difference is the goals against. The Oilers are surrendering 3.13 goals per game, while the desert dogs only give up 2.39.
They’ve done that with an anonymous defence corps. Ed Jovanovski will miss his 8th straight game tonight, and Kurt Sauer has yet to play this season.
The dogs’ defence tonight will consist of James Vandermeer, Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin, Sami Lepisto, Shaun Heshka and David Schmelko. But the key to their defensive success is that their forwards play just as hard/smart in their own zone as they do in the offensive zone. Scottie Upshall leads the Coyotes with seven goals, but he only has eight points. Shane Doan has 16 points, while Matthew Lombardi, Robert Lang and Adrian Aucoin are tied for second with 12. The Coyotes are winning because they have bought into Dave Tippett’s tight defensive game, but I don’t see them maintaining it all season if they don’t start to score more goals.
While some Oiler D-men have struggled in their own zone — Tom Gilbert — the forwards haven’t helped. Too often they have made the wrong read, or left the wrong guy open. The Oilers allow too many goals from right in front of the goal. They need to be tougher on guys at times, but more importantly they need to be in the right position.
The meeting with the coaches and leadership group seems to have focused on communication more than anything. Shawn Horcoff said that Quinn had told the guys at the start of the season that he wanted to have a meeting like this near the 20-game mark.
It wasn’t coincidental that it came after a loss where they were completely dominated, but the players felt it was good timing. They know they need to be better, and they liked that Quinn and Tom Renney wanted to hear what they felt. Dustin Penner said, “The meeting allowed us to feel fresh even after that tough loss to Chicago. It was a good forum to listen to the coaches and for them to listen to us.”
Of course the players wouldn’t divulge every aspect of the meeting, but they all think that Pat Quinn is fair. They like that he is fiery, even in his post-game comments, but none of the guys that I talked with felt that Quinn was being too hard on the players. And thankfully they felt that way, because if the players actually felt he was too hard on them, then this team would be in big trouble.
I think the biggest problem in the room is that some guys feel they deserve to be in the top-six, and get upset when they aren’t slotted there. The coaches CAN’T just hand guys those spots. They have to earn it. Quinn would love one or two guys to play so well that he has no choice but to give them second-line minutes. The young guys who want to be in the top-six haven’t earned that role, and if they don’t get over a sense of self-entitlement then they won’t anytime soon.
Can’t win with one
Quinn will try to get some more balanced scoring by shuffling the deck once again tonight.
Penner — Gagner — Hemsky
Jacques — Horcoff — Brule
Reddox — O’Sullivan — Stortini
Moreau — Potulny — Cogliano
This team hasn’t had any consistent scoring outside of their top-line in almost a month. Penner and Hemsky have been the only consistent producers, and they need Brule, Gagner, O’Sullivan and Cogliano to start producing. Gagner needs to play better, and get back to being a bit abrasive. Same with Brule.
Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t skate and won’t play tonight, but it doesn’t sound like he should be out very long. Ryan Stone skated today, but his knee still feels sore when he pushes off. He might be ready for Friday against the Sharks, but it will depend if the pain subsides by then. Robert Nilsson also skated, but he won’t play tonight, and needs a few more days of practice before they clear him. He could be available on Wednesday, but based on the style of game he plays, I don’t see who he would come in for even when he is healthy.