The 2013 season has not gone well for the Phoenix Coyotes so far. The normally stingy defense has conceded 10 goals in two games, Mike Smith has looked anything but sharp, and the entire roster appears to still be struggling to get on the same page. While a quick glance suggests that last season's basement dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets would be the perfect remedy for the Coyotes' ails, there's more to this matchup than meets the eye.
While most Phoenix fans will remember the 54 save gem of a game by Smitty in April, Columbus actually won the other three games in 2011-12, including a 5-2 pounding at Jobing.com Arena on March 3rd. Columbus is also coming off of a tough 4-3 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, in which the Jackets put up an impressive fight. They will be looking to play a strong game on the road.
Five For Winning
1. Keep it simple. The Coyotes have made some poor decisions on defense in the past couple of games; everything from failures to clear the puck out of the defensive zone to bad stretch passes through traffic to failing to mark opposing players in front of the net. If they can't tighten up defensively, this team is going nowhere.
2. Stay disciplined. Phoenix took five penalties against Chicago, and conceded one power play goal. Any team in the NHL can score on the power play if given enough chances. Stay out of the box and don't give Columbus' offense any freebies.
3. Keep the momentum going. Just 30 seconds after Keith Yandle closed the deficit to 5-4, Mike Smith allowed a soft goal that killed Phoenix's chance for a comeback. The Coyotes also took two penalties in the final five minutes of the game, essentially preventing them from mounting any sustained forecheck. They will have to do a better job managing the game and avoid shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.
4. Don't look ahead. Immediately after the game, the Coyotes will hop on a flight to San Jose to play the Sharks. Although the Sharks are in the division, the Coyotes must take care of business at home.
5. Take care of business. Columbus is a better team than many give them credit for, but with all due respect, this is a game the Coyotes should win. They have all the pieces to be a very good team in the Western Conference. Phoenix has to play like it against the team that finished last in the NHL last year.
Players to Watch
Acquired from New York in the Rick Nash trade, Anisimov can play top minutes and is a legitimate scoring threat. The Coyotes defense, which has looked pretty porous this year, will need to limit Columbus' offensive chances.
Yandle served up one of his trademark games against Chicago; he scored a goal but made some mind-boggling mistakes defensively. He is one of several players that needs to step up on the back-end and help Mike Smith out.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Steve Mason will make his season debut either against the Coyotes or on the second part of their road trip against Colorado. Bobrovsky is coming off of a shootout loss against Detroit in which he made 39 saves on 42 shots and looked very impressive.
According to the Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan, Smith will be back in net for this game. Hopefully he will be able to channel some of the magic of his last game against the Jackets, in which he set an NHL record with 54 saves in a shutout win.
Despite leaving the game against Chicago with an undisclosed injury, Steve Sullivan skated with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata and will likely play on that line. Raffi Torres continues to sit out while serving his suspension. Columbus is skating with a clean sheet so far this season.
For more on tonight's opponent, check out our SB Nation Jackets site, The Cannon.