Oilers-Coyotes Preview

The Associated Press

Although they've been struggling, the Edmonton Oilers believe the next two games provides them with the chance to get back on track.

Taylor Hall's return should also be a huge help.

Hall is expected to return to the lineup after a seven-game absence when the Oilers visit the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night.

Edmonton got off to a hot start this season, but is 6-11-1 in its last 18 games. The Oilers have lost three of four, including a 3-0 defeat at Calgary on Saturday.

Injuries have been an issue all season for Edmonton (14-13-3), but Hall and defenseman Corey Potter are expected to return for this game. Hall, who has seven goals and 11 assists, missed seven games with a left shoulder injury, during which the Oilers went 2-4-1. He's expected back on a line with captain Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

"I'm glad to be back as soon as I could," he said. "It (stinks) missing games, especially when the team's not doing well. You just want to be back and help, but I'm glad I took the extra few days to get it better and I feel great now."

Potter, who had two goals and six assists in 16 games, has been out since mid-November with an ankle injury.

Their returns come at a good time as Edmonton's next two games are against teams just ahead of it in the Western Conference standings. On Saturday, the Oilers visit San Jose.

"It's obviously an opportunity to catch up to some teams that are in front of us and close the gap between us and the playoffs," left wing Ryan Jones said. "That's our goal in here right now and we have to win these games if we want to achieve that goal."

If Hall can help the offense get going, it could help ease the burden on Nikolai Khabibulin. He has a 1.95 goals-against average this season, but is 3-6-1 with a 2.89 GAA in his last 10 starts.

Khabibulin is 9-4-1 with a 1.91 GAA versus the Coyotes.

Edmonton faces a slumping opponent in Phoenix (15-12-3), which has been outscored 13-4 during a season-high three-game skid.

The Coyotes are coming off a 4-1 defeat at Anaheim on Wednesday, starting a stretch of three games in four nights. Martin Hanzal had the lone goal for Phoenix, which registered only 20 shots, six in the final period.

"We've lacked the emotion on an everyday basis, every shift,'' said goalie Mike Smith, who had 24 saves. "That's a big part of it. We've been a good team this year at bouncing back after losses, but we're in a stretch right now where it seems like it's a little harder to do that. Right now, we're not giving ourselves much chance to win hockey games."

One of the lone bright spots was Hanzal's power-play goal - the team's 11th in 95 chances this season. The Coyotes have the worst power-play unit in the NHL at 11.6 percent. However, they had one goal in two man-advantage chances in a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on Nov. 5.

The Coyotes have won seven of eight against the Oilers.

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