On Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes lost 4-2 to the Nashville Predators, surrendering three goals in the first period. The defense has gone from being a systemic nuisance to a major concern. Something has to give for the Coyotes to get back into the win column, and tonight's game against the Minnesota Wild will be a major test for this team.
Teams at a Glance
|Phoenix Coyotes||Minnesota Wild|
|Points||32 (4th Pacific)||34 (4th Central)|
|Goals Per Game||3.17 (4th)||2.44 (23rd)|
|Goals Against Per Game||3.17 (27th)||2.20 (7th)|
|Power Play Percentage||21.4% (8th)||21.6% (7th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||76.1% (28th)||78.6% (24th)|
The Desert Dogs needed a stronger start out of their defense than they got on Monday night against the Predators. They surrendered an easy rebound goal one minute into the contest, and would give up two more in that period beyond that. The blueline has been plagued with shoddy backchecking and lapses in coverage for a while now, but in this recent stretch Phoenix has not been able to score enough goals to overcome their defensive problems.
On the plus side, the goals Phoenix got in Monday night's game were from players they would like to see get rolling. A late scoring change credited Mikkel Boedker with the team's first goal on the night, and Tim Kennedy scored his first as a Coyote just a few minutes later. The power play continues to be resilient despite not converting last night.
Were it not for Minnesota's relative inability to score, the Wild would likely be doing much better than 4th in the Central Division. Regardless, they are out to prove that last year's playoff berth was not an aberration caused by the lockout-shortened season and that they really are an up and coming team in the Western Conference.
Minnesota also suffered a setback on Monday night after losing to the St. Louis Blues 3-0. Despite this, the Wild are an impressive 9-2-1 in the month of November. But with a tough stretch of games against Central Division opponents like the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks looming on the horizon, Minnesota would like to get back on track quickly.
For more on the Minnesota Wild, check out Hockey Wilderness.
Keys to the Game
- Steal One - No matter who is in net tonight, the Coyotes desperately need a goaltender to stand on his head. This would be a great time for the Coyotes to get their first shutout of the season.
- Start Stronger - Three goals in the first period is not conducive to winning hockey games. Phoenix needs to do a better job getting into the game earlier.
- Defend - Even the hottest goaltender is not going to be able to stop everything if the other team is getting easy looks. The defense needs to be fundamentally solid tonight.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Martin Hanzal||7||13||20||1||27|
Hanzal's strong play has propelled him to the Coyotes' scoring lead. With an assist in the Nashville game, it is clear that the Coyotes are a better team with Hanzal down the middle and on the power play.
|2013 - Mikko Koivu||5||16||21||6||12|
Much like Martin Hanzal, Mikko Koivu does pretty much everything for the Wild. He scores, he assists, he wins faceoffs, and he's a mainstay in the lineup. With three goals and three assists in his last five games, Koivu is playing extremely well right now.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Thomas Greiss||5||202||2||1||8||2.38||111||103||.928||0|
In the 2011-12 season, the Coyotes were forced to turn to Curtis McElhinney on a New Year's Eve game in Minnesota. He delivered a 4-2 victory. Call it a hunch, but I think Thomas Greiss may be called upon to do something similar.
|2013 - Niklas Backstrom||9||416||2||2||20||2.88||186||166||.892||0|
Niklas Backstrom has not played much recently thanks to the stellar work of Josh Harding. But injury problems likely mean the former Vezina Trophy
winner finalist will play tonight.
Both Lauri Korpikoski and Zbynek Michalek are nursing injuries and did not make the road trip for the Coyotes. Korpikoski has been placed on IR. More disturbingly, Shane Doan left Monday night's game early, and is listed as questionable for tonight's game.
Minnesota is suffering from a staggering amount of injuries to their offense right now. Michael Rupp has missed the entire season thus far with knee surgery, and defenseman and former Coyote Keith Ballard has been on IR with an upper body injury. Zach Parise (foot) will not play tonight. Torrey Mitchell (leg), Mikael Granlund (upper body) are listed as questionable.
Tonight's game begins at 6 P.M. Arizona time. The game can be viewed on KTVK and heard on KMVP 860 AM.