Pacific upstarts Edmonton, Arizona hook up in desert

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Going into the final week of November, the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes are in a battle for top spot in the Pacific Division. They’ll have a shot at each other when the Coyotes host the division leaders on Sunday.

Edmonton’s playoff appearance three seasons ago is their lone trip in the previous 13 seasons, while Arizona has missed the postseason each of the previous seven years. Considering their past struggles, both clubs have taken huge steps forward this season.

But now they’re angling for more, which is why Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet wasn’t overly ecstatic following a 3-2 road win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, his team’s third victory in four games.

“It’s great to win, but we’re still a work in progress. Our second period wasn’t good,” Tocchet told reporters. “We didn’t get a shot for the first eight minutes. Teams are going to muck and grind against us, and we have to have that mentality.”

The teams are definitely a study in contrasts. The Coyotes are a defensive-first, low-scoring squad with a team-wide scoring punch. The Oilers are a dynamic squad led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are one-two in the league’s scoring race. They are the first pair of teammates with 45 points through their team’s first 25 games since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.

“You’re playing against world-class players, Draisaitl and McDavid,” Tocchet said. “Those guys are giving teams fits. We’ve got to have that division-rival mentality.”

The Coyotes have a 5-1-1 mark against Pacific Division foes.

“It’s a big one,” Coyotes forward Christian Fischer said. “We’ve got a good team coming in, and those are some big points to try and catch them.

The Oilers arrive in Arizona on the heels of a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, a game in which McDavid scored two goals — and ran his point-scoring streak to 10 games — and Draisaitl collected three assists, giving him 31 points in the last 15 games.

The Oilers were looking for a rebound after a disappointing 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, and received it. They never trailed in the game thanks to a complete team effort.

“We’ve found ways to bounce back,” McDavid said. “We don’t hold on to games too long. We can be happy about tonight but we’ve got another big game (Sunday).”

Obviously a little redemption was on the minds of everyone in the Edmonton dressing room.

“It’s the one lesson my dad always taught me. It’s all about how you respond. That’s the most important thing,” Draisaitl said. “Good players, they respond the game after. I was ready to respond.”

Edmonton will put its 5-2-1 mark against divisional foes on the line against the Coyotes.

“We had good performances right throughout the lineup,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said of Saturday’s game. “We needed a good team win like that. Now we move on to Arizona for another key divisional game.”

–Field Level Media

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