Phoenix Coyotes @ Columbus Blue Jackets - Stir Up the Hornet Nest

The last four games for the Phoenix Coyotes have been either wildly disappointing or extremely encouraging, depending on if your glass is half full or half empty. The team has worked hard to pick up 5 valuable points in those contests, while playing three talented teams very closely on the road. However, Phoenix only managed to win a single time, dispatching the New York Islanders easily but wasting brilliant efforts by goalie Mike Smith along the way. Last night was no different, as the 'Yotes played an extremely tough game and pushed the Detroit Red Wings to the brink in a 3-2 shootout loss. Tonight the Coyotes hope to finish their three-game road trip with a win over the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets, and with only 2 wins in their last 10 games (2-4-4), the Desert Dogs should be a desperate bunch. Despite hanging tough and snatching points when they can, the Coyotes currently cling to a 20-17-7 record and have drifted to 11th place in the crowed Western Conference standings.

The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, will be desperate in an entirely different sense of the word. The former expansion team has failed to gain any traction since joining the NHL in the 2000-01 season, and this year is poised to be their worst yet. Columbus has earned the fewest points in the league to this point with an 11-26-5 record, and after an especially awful run of 2-8-1 in their last 11 games, head coach Scott Arniel was given the boot. Sufficed to say, the Blue Jackets represent polar opposites of the foe Phoenix faced last night, and if the team gives even a modicum of the effort they turned in at the Joe, the Coyotes should come away with a solid victory. Tonight's game will not be televised locally but you diehards can listen to the action on XTRA Sports Radio 910 AM. Find your Five for Winning, Players to Watch and injury info after the jump...

Five For Winning -

Pounce on Wounded Prey - The "score first" refrain has been heard often in this space, and obviously punching in the game's first goal would be huge again tonight. But even if the Blue Jackets manage to squeeze one by Smitty to start the game, the Coyotes need to remain relentless and pressure a Columbus squad that seems to have lost the will to compete. Sustained aggression, physicality on both ends and a hunger to end the road trip on the right note will eventually force the bumbling Blue Jackets to fold.

Continue the Dominance - For whatever reason, the Coyotes seem to have mastered the Blue Jackets and since the 2008-09 season commenced Phoenix is a staggering 10-2-0 against Columbus. This is by far their best record against a Western opponent and tonight the Coyotes must make it 11 wins in their last 13 contests with this club. Simply put, if ain't broke don't fix it so expect coach Dave Tippett to employ the same strategy which has proved so successful against this particular opponent.

Brule Bringing It - Newcomer Gilbert Brule played incredibly well in his debut with the club, registering 2 SOG in over 14 minutes on the ice. What's more, Brule appeared to fit right into the Coyotes offensive system and meshed well with his teammates. The slick stickhandler set up a few glorious scoring opportunities with pinpoint passing, and if he can play to the same level he did against the vaunted Wings, I expect Brule to break through here tonight.

Smitty Stonewallin' - Since his return from a six-game injury layoff, Mike Smith has been nothing short of sensational, posting a save percentage in the .960's and turning in a 40+ save effort last night against the Detroit firing squad. Unfortunately, the Coyotes' inability to score sufficiently has meant that this run of spectacular goaltending has been wasted in terms of wins. Despite allowing only 5 goals in his last 4 starts, Smith has only gotten the W one time. Tonight the Coyotes should return the favor and pour it on the weak Columbus goaltending, giving their goaltender a much deserved after his stellar run.

A Star is Born - The ridiculous scoring run that Radim Vrbata has strung together is starting to garner national attention. With another goal last night, his team leading 21st of the year, Vrbata moved into 2nd place in the Western Conference goal scoring race. On pace to approach 40 goals this year, Vrbata has quietly emerged as a top-flight scoring threat and tonight's matchup against an underwhelming Columbus goaltending crew bodes well for the sizzling sniper.

Players to Watch:


Rostislav Klesla

#16 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes

6-3

221

Mar 21, 1982



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Rostislav Klesla 36 1 7 8 5 15 0 0 0 58

Rusty has a history with the Blue Jackets, as Klesla was selected by the franchise as Columbus' first ever draft pick, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He has been a quiet contributor on the blue line for Phoenix this year, and last night he got in the rush and nearly put home a beautiful backhander. Perhaps tonight a little added motivation can help Klesla clamp down on defense, and maybe just maybe, he'll pound one through from the point too.


Aaron Johnson

#5 / Defenseman / Columbus Blue Jackets

6-1

211

Apr 30, 1983



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2011 - Aaron Johnson 21 2 8 10 -2 6 1 0 0 29

During the Blue Jackets recent run of revolting play, defenseman Aaron Johnson has stood out for his solid play. His 10 points on the year match his career high and Johnson has tallied 3 assists in the last 2 games. The 'Yotes should be mindful of what appears to be one of Columbus' sole assets on the ice.

Injury Update:


Phoenix Coyotes Injuries

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Martin Hanzal other-excused 12/26/2011
David Schlemko other-excused 01/08/2012



Columbus Blue Jackets Injuries

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Radek Martinek concussion 10/22/2011
James Wisniewski ankle 12/30/2011
Kristian Huselius groin 12/07/2011
Mark Letestu hand 01/06/2012


Final Note: The Coyotes made a mildly surprising move today when they assigned defenseman David Rundblad to the AHL's Portland Pirates. Rundblad had been an instant contributor to the Coyotes, with 2 assists in his only 2 games since joining the team, which makes this move a bit questionable. Room must be made for Michal Rozsival, but considering the strong play of Rundblad in his first two games, it only seems reasonable to let him stay with the big club and give Derek Morris a night off.


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