The Phoenix Coyotes are on a roll with points in 10 consecutive games, a four game winning streak, back-to-back come from behind victories and just generally awesome play. Their current tear has pulled them into a tie in points with the San Jose Sharks for first in the Pacific Division, although they remain in 7th position overall in the Western Conference, but just 2 points behind the Hawks.
Today, a rare afternoon tilt at Rexall Place against the Edmonton Oilers will complete a short Western Canadian road trip. The Oilers have reeled off two straight wins, including a 2-0 shut out victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Oilers have a number of talented scorers that have had an up-and-down season, but appear to be streaking in the right direction for now. Despite their recent success, it will be important for the Coyotes to simply stamp down on the Oilers early and not let them come up for air. This will be the Coyotes first trip to Edmonton, Alberta this season, but they won both previous games in Glendale by identical 4-2 margins.
1. Score early, score often. While the last two games have shown that the Coyotes are more than capable of making up a first period deficit, it's not the way you want to have to play the game and I'm sure Coach Tippett would like to see more from the boys through the first 20 minutes today.
2. Stay out of the penalty box. The Oilers have scored a remarkable 29% of their overall goals while on the power play (thanks for that tidbit Matt McConnell), 1st in the NHL. They also have the 4th ranked pp unit in the league.
3. Watch the wings. Speedy wingers Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky can create havoc for the blueline and the Coyotes need to be aware of their rushes up the ice to avoid odd man situations.
4. Secondary scoring. We say it often, but who is going to step up if Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney manage to not find the back of the net. Shane Doan and Daymond Langkow got key goals in Calgary and it would be nice to mention a few other names we haven't heard in a while.
5. Mike Smith, Mike Smith, Mike Smith. His last two games haven't been his sharpest of the run, but other than the first period, he has been spectacular. Let's see if Smith can shut things down for a full 60 tonight.
Key Players to Watch
|2011 - Antoine Vermette||61||8||19||27||-18||12||2||1||3||106|
Vermette had a nice debut with the Coyotes on Thursday, hitting 2 posts, winning 60% of his faceoffs and playing just over 17 minutes. It would be nice to see him get on the scoresheet this afternoon.
|2011 - Ales Hemsky||47||5||21||26||-14||27||1||0||1||80|
Hemsky signed a two year, $10 million extension yesterday which has Oilers fans pretty excited. I remember when Pekka Rinne signed his extension right before playing the Coyotes and it wasn't pretty - let's hope we don't see a repeat here.
Likely Starting Goalies
|2011 - Mike Smith||48||2797||27||14||107||2.30||1439||1332||.926||4|
As we get closer to the end of the season, I have to imagine that Coach Tippett will look for opportunities to get Mike Smith a few more days off (he's already eclipsed his career high in games player). With two days off before the next game against Vancouver and riding this type of streak, I don't think that will be today.
|2011 - Devan Dubnyk||31||1714||12||14||82||2.87||906||824||.909||1|
Dubnyk is the man with Nikolai Khabibulin nursing a groin injury suffered earlier this week against Vancouver. Dubnyk's numbers haven't been great, but he's coming off his first shutout of the season and third of his career. Hopefully the Coyotes can pepper him early and often.
Phoenix Coyotes Injuries
Edmonton Oilers Injuries
For more information on today's foe, make sure to check out The Copper and Blue.