USA TODAY Sports
The Edmonton Oilers travel to Arizona to take on the Coyotes and they’ll be doing so with a new head coach behind the bench. Dallas Eakins was fired Monday morning just 31 games into his second season as head coach. Craig MacTavish will take over on an interim basis and see if he can figure out what is plaguing this club that has caused them to lose 15 of their last 16 games. When Eakins was fired he was lauded as the next great coaching candidate, having great success with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Instead his tenure was littered with odd behavior and tons of losses. Many could even argue that the young talent had regressed under his watch. While it’s hard to blame any one man when it comes to the Oilers and their dysfunctional organization, it did appear that a change needed to be made. Sunday night the Oilers lost 2-0 on home ice to the New York Rangers in a game where they generate just 16 shots on goal and looked completely lifeless. This is a hockey club that is 29th in the NHL in goals per game with just 2.10, 29th in goals against per game at 3.32, and 28th on the power play at 12.9 percent. In just about every statistical category this is a below average hockey team and there just wasn’t any progress at any level for the Oilers. The Buffalo Sabres started off even worse than Edmonton this season but the Sabres have found a way to be competitive and win some hockey games despite their short comings. Edmonton needs a complete overhaul right now and that doesn’t mean landing another No. 1 overall draft pick and selecting a player like Connor McDavid despite how talented he might be. There has been a trend with this organization and it’s clear that acquiring this type of top end talent is useless if they aren’t surrounded by the right types of players that can make them successful. Add in the fact that Edmonton never seems to have a legitimate goaltender and it’s all but impossible to recruit free agents and this has to be one of the more difficult jobs in the entire league when it comes to putting a winning product on the ice. Still there is enough talent there that there’s no reason for the Oilers to be this bad. It will be interesting to see how MacTavish performs because if this team doesn’t show improvement there will be plenty of people in Edmonton calling for his ouster as well.
Things haven’t been going much smoother for the Arizona Coyotes this season either. There was a lot of hope in the desert this season but that has slowly dissipated with the club getting off to a 10-16-4 start this year, putting them 12 points out of the final wild card berth and we’re not even to Christmas. With the difficulty in the Western Conference it’s hard to see this mediocre group of players being able to put together the type of run that would be needed for them to make the post season. There could be a big shakeup in Arizona as well once the trade deadline hits if things don’t get better in a hurry. It’s now five straight losses for the Coyotes after Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild. It’s also eight losses in the last nine games and 10 of their last 12. Once a hockey club that was known for their defensive game the Coyotes have been leaking like a sieve. Arizona is 27th in the league in goals against per game, allowing 3.23 per game so far this season. The penalty killing has been atrocious and they can’t score goals. If it weren’t for a couple of wins over the lowly Oilers so far this season the Coyotes might be the ones who had already made a coaching change. Mike Smith hasn’t gotten much help but his game is nowhere near the level that it needs to be at in order for this hockey club to compete. A 5-14-2 record with a 3.35 goals against average and .889 save percentage are the type of numbers that not only help you lose your job but usually force you out of the league. There isn’t much to be excited about in Arizona and Tuesday night’s contest between these two clubs is going to be really tough on the loser.
It’s almost impossible to justify putting your money on either one of these clubs right now but one thing we can look at is the fact that Arizona has defeated Edmonton in all three of their meetings so far this season. Until the Oilers prove they can beat anyone it’s hard to take them.