Oilers-Coyotes Preview

Less than two weeks ago, general manager Craig MacTavish stood by the Edmonton Oilers’ long-term plan.

Coach Dallas Eakins is no longer part of it.

With MacTavish expected to be behind the bench, the lowly Oilers will try to snap their latest losing streak and extend the Arizona Coyotes’ franchise-record home skid to 10 games Tuesday night.

Edmonton (7-19-5) is tied with Carolina at an NHL-low 19 points, losing 15 of 16 games while averaging only 1.7 goals.

That stretch cost Eakins his job Monday, but not after MacTavish orchestrated a bizarre Dec. 5 press conference. MacTavish not only gave his former coach a vote of confidence, but also said: "As painful as this process is, we feel that it’s a necessary step to get us to the next level."

Getting outscored 13-5 during a four-game slide following Sunday’s 2-0 home loss to the New York Rangers was probably not what MacTavish considered as the next level.

Now, the four-time Stanley Cup winner as a center for the Oilers and Rangers will return to the bench. He was Edmonton’s coach from 2000-09, reaching the playoffs three out of eight times while losing in the Stanley Cup final to the Hurricanes in ’06.

He’ll remain in the position until Todd Nelson of Oklahoma City of the AHL is prepared to take over as interim coach.

"I’m not here to absolve myself of accountability," MacTavish said. "I had no real good reason to do this outside of performance. That’s the bottom line that we’re all judged by, the performance level of the hockey club and certainly the record."

The Oilers’ struggles also come with a roster that features three top overall draft picks in forwards Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Nail Yakupov (2012).

Unlike earlier this month, MacTavish is now claiming he isn’t ruling out trading one of his promising stars.

"I don’t want to answer that question until I get a hands-on understanding of exactly what’s happening in there (the locker room)," he said. "I want to have ample opportunity to have eyeball-to-eyeball conversations with the core group."

Nugent-Hopkins leads the team with 19 points, while Hall has 18 and Yakupov eight.

The team’s defensive play has also been abysmal, with Edmonton giving up an average of 3.32 goals to rank only better than Dallas’ league-worst 3.52.

The Oilers have been far worse in their last nine meetings with the Coyotes (10-16-4), surrendering 4.2 goals per game while going 1-7-1. They’ve dropped all three matchups this season while being scored upon 14 times, including a 5-2 home defeat Dec. 1.

Jordan Eberle had a goal in that meeting after collecting six assists in the previous four.

Hall assisted on Eberle’s tally, giving him 18 points in 15 career meetings. He has 12 of those in eight visits to Arizona, scoring two goals and assisting on another in a 7-4 loss there Oct. 15.

The Coyotes are enduring major problems of their own since winning at Edmonton, getting outscored 22-8 during a season-high five-game skid (0-4-1). They dropped to 0-6-3 in their last nine at home with Saturday’s 4-3 shootout defeat to Minnesota.

"Eventually things will turn our way," center Antoine Vermette said. "The group effort was much better (Saturday)."

Vermette has been a rare bright spot lately, collecting four points in three games with a goal in each of the past two. He has an assist in three straight meetings with Edmonton.

Arizona is 9-1-2 in its last 12 home games against the Oilers.