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Arizona Coyotes begin critical Western Canada trip in Edmonton

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Arizona has three games against Pacific Division opponents, beginning today with the Edmonton Oilers.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes have been unable to get any separation in the Pacific Division playoff race. But with three intradivision games over the next week, now would be a prime opportunity.

Arizona travels to Alberta to play the Edmonton Oilers this afternoon, in the first of three games in Western Canada.

Matchup at a Glance

Arizona Coyotes Edmonton Oilers
Points 39 (2nd Pacific) 33 (7th Pacific)
Goals For 2.81 (8th) 2.44 (23rd)
Goals Against 3.19 (29th) 3.05 (27th)
Power Play 17.1% (24th) 16.2% (26th)
Penalty Kill 79.1% (20th) 79.3% (19th)
5v5 Corsi For 46.6% (28th) 48.3% (T-20th)
PDO 101.3 (7th) 98.6 (25th)

View from Arizona

Arizona ended 2015 with points in five of their last six games, with a crazy 7-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks the only outlier. Arizona is still getting horrifically outshot and outchanced, but their goaltending has improved with Louis Domingue's play of late, and the power play is clicking like it was not earlier this season.

January will be a pivotal month if the Coyotes want to stay in the playoff hunt. Six of their twelve games this month are against Pacific Division teams, and they have a seven game homestand in the middle of the month. Arizona will need to take advantage of both.

View from Edmonton

For the  best Edmonton Oilers coverage, check out The Copper & Blue

New year, same Oilers.

Edmonton is falling behind in the Pacific, though they should get a major boost in the near future when Connor McDavid returns to the lineup. They are still only six points behind however, which is a small enough deficit for a winning streak to erase.

It might not be the worst end to the season if the Oilers miss out on the Draft Lottery. Andrej Sekera has been an improvement on the back-end, but the Oilers are still overmatched on defense. Edmonton needs top-end defensive help in their system in the worst way. Until that happens, the Oilers may continue to waste the best years of their highly talented forwards like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid.

Keys to the Game

  • Win the Penalty Game - Arizona was horribly outshot Thursday night versus Winnipeg, but they drew two more penalties than they took. Given they scored two power play goals last night to Winnipeg's zero, that appeared to be the difference.
  • Keep the Shot Differential Close - Winnipeg was far and away the better team at generating offense on Thursday. Arizona cannot simply rely on other teams to make mistakes.
  • Finish in Regulation - Arizona has been good at avoiding the shootout, but with points in the division on the line, the Coyotes also need to avoid overtime at all. Walk away with two points and leave the Oilers none.

Players to Watch

Shane Doan has five goals in his last two games, and he now sits atop Winnipeg/Arizona franchise history with the most goals all-time. He has been white-hot of late.

Benoit Pouliot has three goals in his last three games for the Oilers, in what has proven to be a very good depth signing for Edmonton in the 2014 offseason.

Injury Report

Joe Vitale, Mike Smith, Martin Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon all remain on injured reserve, though Hanzal and Gordon may be able to return at some point on this trip. Steve Downie is also considered questionable for tonight's game.

Besides McDavid, Edmonton has Andrew Ference and Nail Yakupov on injured reserve. Oscar Klefbom and Rob Klinkhammer are expected to return soon, if not tonight. Iiro Pakarinen and Eric Gryba are also listed as questionable.

Puck Drop

Today's game begins at 2 PM Arizona time. You'll need NHL Gamecenter or Center Ice to watch this one on TV, though it will be aired on ESPN 620 AM.