Struggling Coyotes hope to ground high-flying Oilers

By Alan Eskew, The SportsXchange

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Edmonton Oilers had been the laughing stock of the National Hockey League Pacific Division.

They finished last in the division last year with 31 victories and made changes at the top after the dismal season. Peter Chiarelli was named the president of hockey operations. Todd McLellan, who left the San Jose Sharks, was named head coach in May.

The Oilers won only 24 games in the 2014-15 season and 29 in the 2013-14 season.

But with 19-year-old Connor McDavid, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, leading the way, the Oilers find themselves in an unusual and unexpected position in the Pacific Division — first place.

The Oilers, who are coming off a 6-3 victory Wednesday at Colorado, bring a 12-8-1 record into Gila River Arena on Friday night against the Arizona Coyotes, who have the worst record in the NHL — 6-10-2, a .389 winning percentage. The Oilers, who won just 12 road games last season, are a NHL best 7-4-1 on the road this season.

“It's just about keeping perspective over a long season,” Chiarelli told ESPN. “I don't think, 'Oh, we've turned corner.'”

McDavid, who has been compared to former Oiler Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, leads the league with 27 points, 18 assists, including seven on power plays, and 10.3 goals created. McDavid, who missed 37 games with a broken collarbone in his rookie season, had a goal and two assists in the third period against the Avalanche.

“It starts with us offensively,” McDavid told after the victory at Denver. “We had the puck more. Roaming around in their zone and drew a few penalties. (Goalie Cam) Talbot did a good job and our D did a good job. We stuck with it.”

Talbot leads the NHL with 534 stops and 1,127 minutes.

Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had a miserable Wednesday night in a 4-1 home loss to Vancouver.

“I was awful,” Smith told the Coyotes website after the defeat. “I was sleeping right from the first goal and through on. It was obvious I wasn't feeling it, but it's no excuse. You have to get the job done.”

He was replaced by Louis Dominque after the fourth goal.

“It's a goal that has to be stopped and it was obvious after that goal went in my night was over,” Smith said. “You can't let that in. It's as simple as that. It's one of those nights you have a short memory and get back to work.”

Coach Dave Tippett said he would wait until Friday to make a decision on who will mend the nets against the high-scoring Oilers.

Rookie Christian Dvorak scored the only Coyotes goal. With Brad Richardson out with a broken right leg and former first-round pick Dylan Strome sent back to junior hockey, the Coyotes are searching for offense.

“You need players to make plays,” Tippett said on the team's website. “We've got to make plays and not turn it over. That's what it is. We need saves. It's all well and good that everybody's willing to fall on the sword, but let's just do the job. Do the job together, and we'll find ways to win.”

The Coyotes will need to be at their best to beat the Oilers, who have gone from worst to first in the division.