After gaining a point in a tough Pacific Division battle on Saturday night, the Phoenix Coyotes have to get right back on the ice on Sunday night. Their opponent will be the St. Louis Blues. The Desert Dogs are 0-2 against the boys from Missouri so far this season. Of course, the Coyotes aren't the only team that has struggled against the Blues. St. Louis sits a top of the Western Conference with 101 points (tied with the Rangers for most in the NHL). Phoenix will face the Blues without their captain, as Shane Doan sits out the last game of his three game suspension.
Coyotes defensemen Derek Morris is expected to play in his 1,0000 career NHL game tonight. DMo has played much better since his return to the lineup following his absence to help a family member deal with health issues. He made several key plays last night against San Jose including scoring a goal as the first period wound down.
The Blues have become an elite squad since the hiring of Kent Hitchcock back in early November. However, the team has struggled a bit on going 2-2-2 so far on their current seven game road trip that ends tonight in Glendale. St. Louis's strengths are goaltending, defense and depth. The Blues are likely to end their season without a 60 point producer. Yet, they also may end their season giving up the fewest goals in NHL history since the 82 game schedule was introduced. Hitch has decided to mix up his pairings, which may help the Yotes tonight if the change causes any communication problems for the St. Louis blueliners.
Five For Winning
1. Get the first goal. Playing a trapping team from behind is not what you want to do. The Yotes should still be in game mode having played less than 24 hours before while the Blues have been resting since last Thursday. Phoenix should be able to get a goal or two early if they start things the way they did last night in San Jose.
2. Get the puck in deep. If nothing else the Coyotes need to get the puck in the Blues end as often as possible. Obviously, teams always want to do this, but its even more important against a team like the blues. They force neutral zone turnovers constantly and generate their offense off said turnovers.
3. Screen the Goalie. Brian Elliot has been having a career season. Don't expect him to give up any soft ones. The same goes for Jaroslav Halak on the off chance he plays tonight.
4. Handle the fatigue. Playing two games in less than 24 hours is hard enough. Playing the second game against a rested, highly structured opponent is even harder. Coach Tippett and his staff are going to have to carefully manage guy's minutes tonight. Their task is made harder by the fact they won't be able to rely on guys like Shane Doan and Adrian Aucoin which means putting AHL call ups in situations they would likely prefer not to.
5. Draw Penalties. Last night against San Jose the Yotes only drew one penalty and frankly that one was just a bad call by the referee. If the Coyotes power play is ever going to get on track it needs more opportunities.
|2011 - Ray Whitney||76||23||48||71||24||26||7||0||1||175|
Against a team that plays such a strong defensive system and that clogs up the neutral zone, the Yotes need a veteran puck handler like Whitney to bring his 'A' game. In addition, without Shane Doan and possibly Radim Vrbata, the Dogs have to rely even more heavily than they already have this season for offensive production.
|2011 - Alex Pietrangelo||74||11||35||46||17||30||5||0||5||187|
There might not be a more underrated defensemen in the NHL. Pietrangelo logs heavy minutes and produces. He's had 3 assists in the two games the teams played earlier this season. He's expected to be paired with Barrett Jackman this evening.
Likely Starting Goaltenders
|2011 - Jason LaBarbera||18||955||3||8||39||2.45||457||418||.915||0|
One would assume Barbs would get the start tonight after Mike Smith started a game that went to a shootout last night. However, conventional wisdom and the goalie rotation have not always matched up this season. The Yotes backup goalie has a .951 save percentage in his last four appearances.
|2011 - Brian Elliott||34||1990||21||9||52||1.57||868||816||.940||7|
According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Times-Dispatch, Elliot is expected to start the game. The Blues have gotten outstanding goaltending this season from their tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Elliot. Elliot started the Blues last game on Thursday. While the St. Louis lost the game, no one could blame Elliot. The first time he let a puck in the net was in the shootout.
Phoenix Coyotes Injuries
St. Louis Blues Injuries
For more information on the Blues, head over to St. Louis Game Time.