Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
The puck drops on the Phoenix Coyotes' abbreviated season on Saturday night in Dallas.
The Phoenix Coyotes start their shortened 2013 campaign on the road against one of their Pacific Division rivals, the Dallas Stars. The Coyotes are not so fresh off their first appearance in the Western Conference Final. The core of the Desert Dogs roster is intact from last season, but there are some changes. Gone are Adrian Aucoin, Taylor Pyatt, Gilbert Brule, and Ray Whitney. More on Whitney later. General Manager Don Maloney went out and signed NHL veteran Steve Sullivan to replace Whitney and former Calgary Flame David Moss to replace Pyatt. To replace Aucoin, GMDM traded to get former Coyote Zbynek Michalek.
Always looking to improve the roster further, Maloney traded for another former Coyote this past Wednesday. He acquired Matthew Lombardi to gain more speed and depth at center. Earlier today the team announced that offensive defensemen David Rundblad will begin the season with the Coyotes after playing with the Portland Pirates during the lockout. According to Coach Dave Tippett, the Swedish blueliner's two-way play is much improved. Rundblad could be a boon to the Coyotes power play.
When we last saw the Stars they were choking away the Pacific Division and a playoff spot. Part of their problem was having a power play even worse than Phoenix's last season. Yes, it was that bad. In order to go about rectifying their power play woes, the Stars signed two aging forwards who have a history of producing on the power play, Jaromir Jagr and the aforementioned Whitney. They also inked defenseman Aaron Rome in the off-season.
The biggest question mark for the Stars, from a production standpoint, is who is going to replace Mike Ribero's numbers now that he is in Washington. The Stars hope the answer will be Derek Roy who they traded for last summer, from Buffalo, in exchange for uber-pest Steve Ott. Also new to Dallas is Cody Eakin, acquired from the Capitals in exchange for Ribero. Eakin has been impressive in the juniors and the AHL. The question is can he be anywhere near as productive in the NHL.
The teams faced one another six times during the 2011-12 season. Each team won three games. The Coyotes won twice in regulation and once in overtime. All three Stars wins were via the shootout. The Coyotes twice gave up late 3rd period goals on defensive breakdowns which led to Stars wins.
Five For Winning
1. No Late Goals. Phoenix's hockey club cost themselves too many points last season, including games against Dallas, because of late defensive breakdowns.
2. Grumpy Old Men. Harass and be physical with Jagr & Whitney. Don't give them room on the ice.
3. Test The Young Dallas Blueliners. Jordie Benn and Brendan Dillion have only played four NHL games combined in their careers. Philip Larsen has played 63 games total in the big league. At least two of them, possibly all three, will see ice time on Saturday. The Coyotes forwards need to be aggressive and force them into making quick decisions which could potentially lead to turnovers.
4. Win The Goaltending Battle. The Pacific division had three of the best starting goalies in the league last season. Two of them are the likely starters for this matchup. Phoenix needs the Mike Smith of last year to show up in Texas.
5. No Contract for Benn. No question the Coyotes can beat the Stars with Jamie Benn in the lineup. They did so last season. But with him out of the lineup, it will make it much tougher for the Stars to generate offense. Let's hope his agent and the club don't come to a contract agreement in time for him to suit up for the game.
Players To Watch
Vrbata set career highs in goals and points last season. The question now is can he repeat the performance, especially with his former left winger now playing for Saturday's opposition? Vrbata had three goals and two assists against Dallas last season.
Ryder scored half of the Stars' goals in last season's matchups with the Yotes. Having Tom Wandell as his center for the opener may hurt the wingers chances of putting the puck in the net. Although, new linemate Ray Whitney's passing skills may partially make up for the lack of a true #2 center at the moment.
Projected Starting Goalies
Smith started all six games against Dallas last season. He had a mind boggling .956 save percentage and a 1.28 GAA in those contests. Needless to say he deserved more than the three wins on his record.
Like Smith, Lehtonen started all six games in the series last season. His numbers from last season's contest against Phoenix were a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA. Similar to Phoenix, the Stars relied on their starting netminder to keep them in games last season.
Projected Line Combos & Defensive Pairings
If Lombardi can't get to Dallas due to visa issues expect Gordon and Vermette to move up one line and Alex Bolduc to center the 4th line
OEL - Michalek
Yandle - Morris
Klesla - Schlemko/Rundblad
Raffi Torres (suspension) is out.
Aaron Rome (groin) is questionable.