The Phoenix Coyotes have been playing some of their best hockey recently, with a sweep of the four game road trip through Anaheim and Western Canada and they are sitting in 4th spot in the Western Conference heading into the weekend. As has been the case all year, the weekend's slate of games will no doubt turn all of this on its head and create an entirely new picture.
After the jump, we'll take a look at how the West currently stands and what teams have on their schedule for the weekend and how these outcomes can help the Coyotes both secure a playoff position and, possibly, win their first ever Pacific Division crown.
Vancouver Canucks - 73 G, 47-17-9, 103 Points
Weekend Schedule: No Games Scheduled
Best Possible Outcome: That's right, high and mighty Vancouver, cruising towards the President's Trophy gets the weekend off before a Wednesday matchup against Detroit. Enjoy the break, I suppose.
Detroit Red Wings - 71 G, 43-20-8, 94 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday @ Nashville
Best Possible Outcome: It's highly unlikely that the Coyotes will catch Detroit give the 7 point lead with a few games in hand already, so the Wings may as well do something useful on the other end and help the Coyotes secure their playoff position by beating the Preds in regulation.
San Jose Sharks - 72 G, 41-23-8, 90 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs.
Best Possible Outcome: With the Blues being pretty much out of the running here, they can relish their role as spoilers and give the Coyotes a hand towards that Pacific Division crown by topping the Sharks in San Jose.
Phoenix Coyotes - 73 G, 39-23-11, 89 Points
Weekend Schedule: Sunday vs. Chicago
Best Possible Outcome: It's going to be a big crowd with lots of Chicago fans in attendance, but the Coyotes need to block out the noise and just keep rolling at this point. It's one of those crucial four point games where a win gets you further separation from the teams chasing you and a loss lets them close that gap even quicker. So just win again, and in regulation. Of course, if the Coyotes are going to lose, get it into overtime and get the loser point.
Los Angeles Kings - 71 G, 40-26-5, 85 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs. Anaheim
Best Possible Outcome: Two teams chasing the Coyotes, with LA being a bit closer. In the end, as long as the game ends in regulation, it's a win for the Coyotes. I'd probably rather see Anaheim win to help give the Coyotes a bit better shot at the Pacific Division crown, but just keep this game from going to overtime.
Dallas Stars - 71 G, 38-25-8, 84 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs. Philadelphia
Best Possible Outcome: The Flyers have been sputtering just a bit after pretty much dominating the Eastern Conference all season, so what better way to break out of a funk than by helping the Coyotes create more separation and beating the Stars in regulation.
Chicago Blackhawks - 71 G, 38-25-8, 84 Points
Weekend Schedule: Sunday @ Phoenix
Best Possible Outcome: The Blackhawks were the hottest team in the league a little while ago, but they've struggled recently and dropped their last game against the Stars 5-0. They will be well rested on Sunday in Glendale and the Coyotes, coming off the four game road trip, will need to keep that road mentality in order to secure the important two points.
Calgary Flames - 73 G, 37-27-9, 83 Points
Weekend Schedule: Sunday @ Anaheim
Best Possible Outcome: With Anaheim having all these games in hand on Calgary, they might as well win this one and let Anaheim try to make up the points. Considering that the Coyotes went 4-0-0 against Calgary this year, I just assume see them make the postseason as opposed to a Ducks team that gave the Desert Dogs fits.
Nashville Predators - 71 G, 36-25-10, 82 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs. Detroit, Sunday @ Buffalo
Best Possible Outcome: Nashville can be a streaky team, so it would be best if they didn't get rolling now. A pair of losses this weekend would seriously hurt the chances of the Predators catching the Coyotes, even if they may still be in fine shape to make the playoffs (and I have a lot of respect for Nashville, so I'll cheer for them to make it over Anaheim or Calgary). But in terms of helping the Coyotes, more losses please.
Anaheim Ducks - 70 G, 38-27-5, 81 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday @ Los Angeles, Sunday vs. Calgary
Best Possible Outcome: Split cheering here as we've already alluded to above, beat LA and lose to Calgary and I think that is the best situation we can ask for as Coyotes fans. That being said, I'm perfectly happy with the Ducks just losing all the way out because I have no love for this team.
Minnesota Wild - 71 G, 35-29-7, 77 Points
Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs. Columbus, Sunday vs. Montreal
Best Possible Outcome: Two more losses this week have really pushed the Wild virtually out of the playoff picture unless they go on quite a tear from here out. In fact, if they lose to Columbus, the Blue Jackets will pull even with Minny with 77 points. But since I included them last week, I'll include them here - losses help the Coyotes get that much closer to clinching their playoff spot, so go BJs and Canadiens...
So there's your weekend preview and a look at the games to be keeping an eye on as they will affect the Coyotes playoff push. Scoreboard watching is going to become a routine habit over the next month and it will definitely be interesting to see how the Western Conference shakes itself out over this span.