Tonight’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers (3-2-0, 2nd in the Northwest Division) and Phoenix Coyotes (2-4-0, 5th in the Pacific Division) marks the first meeting between two of the more polarizing teams in the NHL in recent months. Both teams are probably relieved to be back on the ice just for the sake of having something to do besides read all the stories, deal with all the questions, and hear all the rumors that have been swirling about in the media like an F5 tornado all these months.
Between all the talk of Edmonton’s youth movement, whether or not the team is ready to finally climb into the playoff race this year, the hubbub surrounding the arrivals of both Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov this past summer, their owner’s dalliance with Seattle as that city prepares to build an NBA/NHL arena and the city of Edmonton’s own struggles to reach a new arena agreement of their own (until last week, that is), it is has been an exciting eight months for the team. Nonetheless, I’m sure a lot of that has grown tiresome for the players and the organization. Similarly, the never-ending saga in Glendale about whether or not the Phoenix Coyotes will finally be purchased and kept in Glendale (at least for the time being) by Greg Jamison and his cloak-and-dagger group of “investors,” or relocated before next season to one of several locations, has drawn more attention their way than they would probably like.
There will be lots of subplots to tonight’s matchup to keep things interesting. Phoenix’s #1 goaltender, Mike Smith, is injured and backup Jason LaBarbera has struggled mightily this season. Throwing a wrench in the mix is Chad Johnson, who was recalled from Portland the other day and pitched a shutout against Nashville, perhaps earning himself another start. That being said, LaBarbera has won his last five starts against the Oilers and has a goals against average of 1.20 in those games, so maybe he gets the nod in the hopes that the Oilers will be the tonic he needs to get back on track.
As for the Oilers, will they finally be able to string together a winning streak after sea-sawing between win and loss through the first five games of the season? And while their power play continues to be mind-bogglingly fantastic (35.7%, first in the NHL), will they finally learn how to score some more goals on 5-on-5, where they rank dead-last in the NHL with only four? And how about the enormous monkey on their backs known as the Phoenix Coyotes, who have defeated the Oilers in 10 of their last 11 meetings, and have won seven in a row against Edmonton at home? Can the Oilers find a way to break through all of that and get into the win column?