In what will be the last game before a much needed All-Star respite, the Phoenix Coyotes will take on the Ottawa Senators tonight in only the 19th contest between the clubs. The Sens will be hoping to secure two points and a bit of momentum with a win before retuning home to host the midseason festivities in Ottawa. The home team, on the other hand, is limping towards the break with over a month's worth of middling play, and tonight's game presents the last opportunity for improvement before a long break to dwell on things. Following a worrisome 4-3 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a margin that appears deceptively close thanks to a pair of futile late goals, the Desert Dogs should be desperate for a win. A loss tonight would be Phoenix's seventh in their last eight games and would drop their season record, which currently sits at 21-20-8, to the .500 mark of mediocrity. Stuck in neutral at the 12th spot in the conference standings for weeks now, the Coyotes must get things in gear and begin their push to the playoffs. A win tonight would leave the team 2 points out of the 8th and final playoff berth, but the Coyotes would only be 6 points away from chasing down the San Jose Sharks for the ever elusive Pacific Division crown.
The visiting squad tonight could very well be a distracted bunch, with thoughts of hotel reservations, family plans and All-Star responsibilities likely swimming through many Senators minds. Due to the fan-based voting system for the All-Star selection process, four Senators will take the ice on Sunday: Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and team captain Daniel Alfredsson. These four are all obviously key contributors for Ottawa and if their focus wanes for a few shifts in anticipation of the break, the Coyotes could make quick work the slumping Sens. Although Ottawa boasts a respectable record of 27-18-6, the Sens have struggled on their recent three-game Western road swing, posting losses to the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings in their last two games. Ottawa's offense was contained Monday night in a 4-1 loss to the Kings, and a big time performance by Coyotes netminder Mike Smith may just shut them down again tonight. The puck will drop at 7:00pm local time and the game will be televised by Fox Sports Net Arizona. You can find your Five for Winning, Key Players and injury updates after the jump...
Five for Winning:
1. Early All-Star Game. With the Senators enjoying a national showcase of their players during the All-Star festivities, and the 'Yotes sending Keith Yandle as their sole representative, tonight is an opportunity to send the hockey world a message. Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and the boys may not get much national respect, but an impressive showing against Ottawa's own All-Star team would certainly turn some heads.
2. Show Up, Step Up. After falling behind 3-0 to the Lightning while playing lackluster hockey, the Coyotes seemed to remember that they were playing and not practicing, scoring three goals in the 2nd and 3rd periods to avoid a blowout. A repeat of that awful 1st period performance is unacceptable tonight, especially after two full days of preparation against an Ottawa team playing consecutive roadies.
3. Doan's Home Ice Dominance. In the team's last nine home games, the captain Shane Doan has simply been a beast. His seven goals and 10 points in this span lead the team, and the run included the Doaner's historic last-second Hat Trick, the one which brought tears to the eyes of the Coyotes faithful. After a scoring dip during the last few seasons, the ageless Doan seems to be saving his best for last, and another monster home game when the boys need it the most would be a great way to head into the break.
4. Dis the Disgruntled One. Highly hyped center Kyle Turris never blossomed into anywhere near the player his agent claimed him to be during his acrimonious stint with the Coyotes. After holding out to begin the season, Turris put up a goose egg on the stat line before earning a trade to far flung Ottawa. He then proceeded to duplicate his disappointing performance, going goalless in his first sevengames as a Senator. Since then Turris has rediscovered his scoring touch, notching four goals and nine assists in his last 18 games. Every Coyotes fan should let Turris hear it tonight, with rounds of booing reserved for him every time he touches the ice. Glendale may not be the hockey hotbed of American hockey just yet, but we are a proud bunch and we know when we're not wanted. Here's hoping Turris is hearing the howls long after he departs the desert for the second time this year.
5. Just Win Baby. The Dave Tippett-led Coyotes who shocked the hockey world during the last two seasons prided itself on never quitting and never giving up. They were nearly always outgunned by more talented teams, but the boys found a way to come together and earn a win - usually by the skin of their teeth. Tonight needs to be the start of a team-wide return to this style of play, and the Coyotes have to earn the full two points, preferably with a romping regulation win. However, even if the game is close in the 3rd or the 'Yotes find themselves trailing early, the team needs to find a way to win no matter what it takes. With the break coming up, expect the veterans on this team to leave it all out on the ice tonight.
|2011 - Gilbert Brule||6||2||1||3||1||2||1||0||0||13|
For a Phoenix team woefully in need of offensive production, the acquisition of Gilbert Brule from the waiver wire has proven to be a shrewd move by GMDM. The speedy centerman has shown the silky hands and stickhandling skills of another French Canadian sniper Coyotes fans once revered: Daniel Briere. If the young Brule can continue contributing at the pace he has, his spot in the lineup will become more secure by the day.
|2011 - Kyle Turris||24||4||9||13||9||19||0||0||2||50|
After proving that he had no heart or passion to play during his time in the desert, the departed Kyle Turris has a perfect opportunity to stick it to his old team. But if the player we all watched struggle to emerge shows up tonight, or should I say fails to show up, a quiet night on the stat sheet should be in order.
|2011 - Mike Smith||37||2150||17||13||88||2.46||1118||1030||.921||2|
|2011 - Alex Auld||11||470||1||3||28||3.57||232||204||.879||0|