Oilers, Coyotes get together looking to ease concerns
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes' concern is all those days off. The Edmonton Oilers' concern is all those games off at least offensively, that is.
The Oilers, unable to generate much momentum with their season now more than halfway over, play back-to-back road games this weekend against teams coming off their bye weeks -- the Coyotes on Friday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
What they don't know is if it's an advantage they're going against teams that might be a bit rusty, or a disadvantage because the Coyotes will be well-rested, having not played since a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.
"Five days off might not seem like a lot, but the rhythm of your game goes away and you have to find it quickly," Oilers center Mark Letestu said following practice Thursday at Gila River Arena. "In our situation, we've got two here now before our break and there's a tendency to want to empty the tank. You have nothing to save it for, so you want to give your best effort."
The Coyotes had three days off last week, but they practiced all three days and came out to beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime on Jan. 4.
This time, though, they weren't permitted to practice during the NHL's newly instated bye week until 6 p.m. EST on Thursday.
"I can't speak for what Arizona and Las Vegas will go through or how they'll feel," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "It doesn't matter to us. We have to prepare our game."
Arizona will have a bit of a different look since the Oilers (18-23-3) last saw them on Nov. 28. A 3-2 Edmonton win was decided by Ryan Hopkins-Nugent's goal with 40 seconds remaining in overtime.
The Coyotes picked up forward Freddie Hamilton on waivers from Calgary last weekend, then added right winger Richard Panik -- a 22-goal scorer last season -- in a trade Wednesday that sent left winger Anthony Duclair to the Chicago Blackhawks. During practice Thursday, Panik skated on a line with left winger Brendan Perlini and center Derek Stepan.
General manager John Chayka wanted to pick up an experienced, proven goal scorer to complement his young cast of forwards that includes rookies Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer. Panik, 26, has 53 goals in his career while playing for Tampa Bay, Toronto and Chicago, but only six goals in 37 games this season.
"He's a big, strong player, plays with speed, plays with pace, (is a) good goal scorer," Chayka said on a conference call. "We still think he's playing a well-rounded game, still think he's doing a lot of good things that he was doing in the past."
The Coyotes, saddled with an NHL-worst 10-27-6 record, have only one player with more than 30 points -- the 19-year-old Keller (14 goals, 32 points). The Oilers, by contrast, have gotten 15 goals and 48 points from wunderkind Connor McDavid, who is only 20 but was the Hart Trophy winner last season.
However, the Oilers are looking for goals, too they've scored only four in six games, and they squandered an excellent defensive effort during a 2-1 loss in Nashville on Tuesday.
McLellan's suggestions to his team: go to the net more, work harder for the puck and review past goals to see where they were scored from.
"In practice, we moved some people around and got guys in different spots," McLellan said Thursday. "Some of the drills started with the same mentality of getting it to the (goaltender's) pad area then finding a retrieval and scoring off the rebound. We're approaching it that way, preaching it that way."
Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot is 15-16-2 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage during what has been a busy season for him. He is 7-3-1 with a 2.24 goals-against average against Arizona. Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta (6-11-3) is 2-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average in his career against Edmonton.
With both teams playing on successive nights -- Arizona plays at San Jose on Saturday -- it's likely backups Al Montoya of Edmonton and Scott Wedgewood of Arizona will get a game each.
Updated January 12, 2018