The Coyotes return from a five-day, league-mandated midseason layoff to host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. Follow along for live updates throughout the game.
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson may be the team’s lone representative at this year’s All-Star Game, but he still has a lot to justify this season.
While Ekman-Larsson is fourth on the team in scoring, inconsistencies in the defenseman’s play have been apparent in the first half of the season. For assistant coach and defensive specialist Scott Allen, he’s hoping the All-Star selection can help Ekman-Larsson get back to playing at an All-Star level.
“Consistency is probably the biggest thing and that’s the biggest thing for all these guys,” Allen said. “That’s the biggest thing for anybody in life is to be able to do it consistently day in day out … Sometimes you’ll see that All-Star level in a few games and then all of a sudden it’ll be a tough turnover. And maybe that tough turnover ends up in the back of the net.”
Ekman-Larsson is the longest-tenured player on the Coyotes’ roster, which undoubtedly provides as much challenge to adapting to a new head coach and a new system as it would a rookie.
Allen said the implementation of a new playing system has been a work-in-progress not only for Ekman-Larsson, but for several of the veterans acquired in the offseason.
“We’re all creatures of habit,” Allen said. “So if you’re used to doing something a certain way and you’re used to playing within a certain system — and then things change — then it does take time. When the intensity ramps up and certain situations arise, we all have a tendency to go back to what we’re comfortable with. And for sure that has happened not only for him, but for anybody when you’re trying to put that new system in place. It’s going to take time.”
The Coyotes are hoping that the second half of the season will showcase why the new system was worth putting in place, and that their franchise defenseman will flourish within it.
“Obviously OEL is a dynamic offensive defenseman,” Allen said. “But from the defensive side he’s playing against the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis so you know it doesn’t show right now in the win-loss column for us, but the fact that we’re able to hang with a lot of teams and push … I mean we’re not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination and we’re still very much a work-in-progress. But he’s a big piece of that work-in-progress for us.”
The 26-year-old Ekman-Larsson will participate in his second All-Star Game in Tampa later this month. As a coach, Allen said he always takes great pride in the accomplishments of his players.
“Extremely happy for him,” Allen said. “You know, now he’s he’s a two-time All-Star and this franchise has only had one three time All-Star and that was (Keith) Tkachuk. So we’re hoping that he ties and passes that in the years to come. But for now, personally, I’m very proud and happy for him.”
Oilers vs. Coyotes
When: 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Arizona-Plus/KTAR-AM (620).
The Coyotes (10-27-6) return from their off-week and welcome the Edmonton Oilers (18-23-3) into Gila River Arena on Friday … Losers of seven of their last eight games, the Oilers will have a bye week of their own after concluding their current road trip with games against Arizona (Friday) and Vegas (Saturday) … The Oilers are led in scoring by reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid (15 goals, 33 assists), as well as forwards Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 23 assists) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (15 goals, 15 assists) … With back-to-back games beginning on Friday, the Oilers could play either starting goaltender Cam Talbot (15-16-0, 3.09 GAA) or backup Al Montoya (2-1-0, 3.49 GAA) against Arizona … The Coyotes suffered a 3-2 overtime loss in Edmonton on Nov. 28 after failing to preserve a 2-1 lead in the third period; the Oilers are 10-10-0-6 in 26 games all-time at Gila River Arena.
Projected Coyotes lineup
Potential scratches: Zac Rinaldo (suspended), Freddie Hamilton, Luke Schenn.
Injury update: Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is expected to return from injury on Friday after missing time with his latest ailment. He has been limited to just 17 games this season
Projected Oilers lineup
Potential scratches: Anton Slepyshev, Yohann Auvitu.
Injury update: The Oilers do not currently have any injured players on their roster.
- The Coyotes boast a 27-5-5 record over their last 37 games against the Oilers.
- Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has tallied 10 goals and 14 assists in 29 career games vs. Edmonton, his highest career point total against any opponent.
- Center Derek Stepan has notched a point in 11 of the team’s last 13 home games and has totaled 19 points in 20 games at Gila River Arena this season.
- The Coyotes rank fourth in the NHL with 1,035 hits as a team.
- Rookie Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes in goals (14) and points (32) and the 19-year-old currently ranks tied for third among NHL rookies in goals and third in points.
- Defenseman Jakob Chychrun has notched a point in four of his last seven games and has done so in six of 14 games since making his belated season debut following offseason knee surgery.
- The Coyotes boast the second-best penalty kill percentage (86.4 percent) in the NHL since Oct. 31; the team has killed off 70 of its opponents’ last 81 power plays.