Edmonton hosts the Arizona Coyotes this evening, and the contest represents an opportunity for the Oilers. From a standings perspective the ‘Yotes are entirely irrelevant, but in other ways they’re unique. The Coyotes have given Edmonton trouble for a long time, and tonight’s game is a chance to prove that a mid-December win in Arizona was a start of a new trend.
It’s also a chance for the Oilers to find some secondary scoring against a team that has trouble keeping the puck out of its own net.
The Coyotes have surrendered three-or-more goals in 11 of their last 12 games, averaging 3.4 goals against per contest over that span. Over their last 10 games, Mike Smith is 1-5-1 with a 0.889 save percentage while Louis Domingue is 1-2-0 with a 0.905 save percentage. They allow a lot of shots, and a lot of those shots go in.
Edmonton, meanwhile, has had trouble finding scoring from lines and units not including Connor McDavid. We talked about the lack of secondary offence from the team last Wednesday and in the two games since the Oilers have scored just two five-on-five goals, both with the McDavid line out there.
I thought the Todd Nelson-era first line looked good against the Flames, though they didn’t finish the looks they got. Jordan Eberle in particular was snakebitten and at some point those pucks are going to start going in. Benoit Pouliot too looks better than he has for much of the year. This could be a breakout night for that line.
I’m more skeptical about the third unit, but Milan Lucic has a long track record as a five-on-five scorer while Drake Caggiula was effective on Saturday. Again, Arizona represents an opportunity for this line to show what it can do.
The way the NHL presents its standings makes things look closer than they really are, so instead today we’re going to look at 82-game pace for every club in the West currently projected to finish with more than 85 points. That lens knocks the playoff picture down to nine teams:
- Minnesota: 119 points
- Chicago: 105 points
- St. Louis: 95 points
- Anaheim: 102 points
- San Jose: 99 points
- Edmonton: 97 points
- Los Angeles: 92 points
- Nashville: 90 points
- Calgary: 87 points
The Oilers are in a pretty good position here, closer to winning their division than they are to falling out of the playoffs. The Battle of Alberta is a pretty big reason for this, as Edmonton has collected six points to Calgary’s one in those games; reverse those numbers and the teams switch positions on this list.
From a standings perspective, today’s game against the Coyotes is as meaningless as a midseason game can be. Arizona has been out of the postseason race since well before Christmas, though that nine-game losing streak stretching from December to January really underlined the club’s impotence. A win won’t move our 82-game projected Oilers into the division lead, while a loss won’t knock them out of the playoffs, either.
According to Todd McLellan, both Adam Larsson and Jujhar Khaira are game-time decisions. Assuming Khaira can play, he’ll be the only change to the forward lines after Saturday’s win.
Cam Talbot is expected to start, as per Jack Michaels, even though this is a prime opportunity to get the backup in. That’s probably a good decision from a team perspective; the Oilers schedule lightens toward the end of the month and there’s no point in jeopardizing what should be a win. It would be nice to get Laurent Brossoit some action against a team like Arizona, but being a coach is all about managing competing interests.
Mike Smith made 34 stops on 37 shots in his last game, a win over Winnipeg, so one imagines he’ll be getting the start for Arizona.
It isn’t too early to be thinking about trade deadline rentals, and the Coyotes have a few possibilities. Martin Hanzal has had a tough season offensively, but is a pending free agent and rumour mill fixture. He’s also a massive two-way centre who brings size and a history of playing tough minutes; the idea of running a player like that as a middle-six centre in Edmonton is compelling.
Radim Vrbata, who we talked about over the summer, is another interesting possibility. Again, he’s a pending free agent, and he’d give the Oilers some veteran depth at right wing.
Finally, there’s Michael Stone. He’s 26 years old, has good size and some offensive ability, and is a right shot. He’s also a pending free agent. I’m skeptical that he’s really a top-four defenceman, but there aren’t going to be a lot of rearguards on the market this summer and so he’s worth checking out from a due diligence standpoint if nothing else.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
From Five for Howling
- Will it be feast or famine for Arizona’s offense? – After scoring four goals in the first period against the Jets, the Coyotes could not put the puck in the net at any point over the subsequent five periods of hockey. Can they find more consistency?
- Can Arizona hit the net? – On Saturday the Coyotes missed more shot attempts wide than they had on goal. Can the Coyotes cut down on the number of errant pucks?
- Can the power play match the penalty kill? – Arizona’s penalty kill has been excellent of late; the Coyotes have killed off their last 15 penalties. Their power play has not been of similar quality. Can Arizona get at least one power play goal tonight?
Game day prediction: The Coyotes aren’t a good team; the Oilers are. That doesn’t guarantee a win, but it makes it likely. Call it a 4-1 Edmonton final.
Obvious game day prediction: Connor McDavid picks up two points, hitting an even 100 as an Oiler. This ties him with Eric Brewer for 71st on the list of all-time scorers
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Jordan Eberle’s minus-18 rating against Arizona is his worst against any NHL team. It improves by two tonight, and he picks up a goal and an assist to boot.