The Arizona Coyotes, who are in the middle of a trip through Western Canada, will be in Edmonton tonight for a game with the Oilers. Here are your game day notes.
1. The Oilers are in the midst of a crucial stretch in which they play six of seven games at home mostly against non-playoff teams. Edmonton squeaked out a win against Florida on Thursday night to kick off the stretch. They’ll have Arizona tonight, they’ll be in Vancouver next week, and they’ll host Carolina and Detroit after that. The only playoff teams Edmonton will face over this stretch are Calgary and Buffalo. A good showing here could vault Edmonton into a playoff spot. If they can’t take advantage of these teams, though, it’s hard to see them buying at the trade deadline on Feb. 26.
2. Unfortunately for the Oilers, the Minnesota Wild, who I view as Edmonton’s strongest competition for the eighth playoff spot, also have an easy schedule for next little bit. Minnesota plays Detroit, Philly, Los Angeles, and Anaheim over the next week, making this easy stretch for the Oilers even more critical. The Oilers and Wild will also play each other just once more this season on Feb. 7.
3. If the Oilers do decide to buy at the deadline, I imagine they’ll be looking for a player with more than one year of control. While somebody like Mark Stone from Ottawa would surely help the Oilers push into a playoff spot, the team simply isn’t good enough right now to throw away a first-round pick on a first-round exit. Going after somebody like Nino Niederreiter, Tyler Toffoli, or Brayden Schenn who have multiple control years makes a lot more sense.
4. The Coyotes are one of those teams the Oilers need to beat. They’re 19-21-3, they can’t score goals, and they’ve been completely decimated by injuries. Christian Dvorak has yet to play this season, Michael Grabner is out with an eye injury and it isn’t known when he’s going to return, and Nick Schmaltz, who was acquired in the Dylan Strome deal, will also miss the entire season. Beyond those forwards, Jason Demers and Antti Raanta will also miss the rest of the season due to injury. Their leading scorer, Brad Richardson, was also placed on the Injured Reserve on Friday and won’t suit up against the Oilers.
5. The Oilers have Coyotes have met just once this season. It came back on Jan. 2 and ended in a 3-1 Oilers win. For a brief moment, the Oilers were undefeated in 2019. That win was emblematic of how the team has had to pick up wins all season. They scored three goals and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl factored into all three of them. This is obviously beating a dead horse, but depth scoring has been nonexistent all year. It could be worse, though. At least the Oilers have a few players who can score. The Coyotes have none.
6. One of the strangest things about the Coyotes is how they’ve been great at keeping the puck out of the net. You’d think, looking at all the young talent on their roster, that they’d be a team that thrives offensively but struggles in the defensive zone. Instead, they’re the opposite. The Coyotes are horrendous offensively but they’re excellent at keeping the puck out of the net. Arizona ranks 29th in the league in goals for and seventh in goals against. Adin Hill, who was recalled after Raanta went on the Injured Reserve, has been excellent in net. He owns a .916 save percentage in 12 starts since the recall. Darcy Keumper has also been solid as he owns a .914 save percentage in 21 appearances this season.
7. Another key reason why Arizona’s goals against totals are so good is their amazing penalty kill. The Coyotes have allowed just 15 power play goals against this season, good for an 88.55 PK percentage. Amazingly, they’ve scored 11 shorthanded goals, meaning you’re about as likely to be scored on by the Coyotes when you have a power play as you are to score a power-play goal on them yourself. That said, Grabner and Richardson, who have combined for seven of those 11 shorthanded goals, are out due to injury.
8. At some point, you have to assume that Arizona’s offensive woes are systemic. Alex Galchenyuk, who was a consistent 20-plus goal player in Montreal, has just seven goals for the Coyotes in his first year since being dealt. On the other hand, Max Domi, who was moved to Montreal in that deal, has 14 goals for Habs, a massive improvement on the nine he had in back-to-back years in Arizona. Then there’s Dylan Strome, the disappointing No. 3 overall from 2015 the Coyotes moved on from earlier in the season. Strome has 14 points in 22 games with the Blackhawks compared to the six points he had in 20 games with the Coyotes.
9. To be fair to the Coyotes and their offensive abilities, the team has been on a mini-tear as of late. They scored five against the Rangers and then four against the Canucks in back-to-back wins earlier this week. The team’s surge has been led by rookie Conor Garland, who has four goals in his last three games. In 16 career NHL games (all this year), Garland has six goals, meaning he’s just five goals away from tying Richardson for the team’s lead in goals.
10. Finally, it’s expected Kailer Yamamoto will be ready to play tonight against the Coyotes. Yamamoto played in one game after being recalled from the AHL before being sidelined with an injury. What’s the best way to handle Yamamoto moving forward? He was originally recalled to replace Alex Chiasson who has since returned to the lineup. Yamamoto had just hit his stride in the AHL, so does it make sense to keep him up with the big club?
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/12/2019 – 7:00 am MST