The Coyotes find themselves in unfamiliar territory this week. They are North of the Border and East of the Mississippi for a trio of games against Eastern Canadian opponents. The first team they will match up against is the most successful franchise in the NHL: the Montreal Canadiens.
Matchup At a Glance
|Phoenix Coyotes||Montreal Canadiens|
|Points||41 (5th Pacific)||43 (2nd Atlantic)|
|Goals Per Game||3.12 (4th)||2.46 (21st)|
|Goals Allowed Per Game||3.06 (25th)||2.06 (2nd)|
|Power Play Percentage||21.1% (7th)||21.5% (6th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||78.3% (26th)||86.7% (4th)
Today's visit to the Bell Center will be the Coyotes' first since October of 2010. After a very hot start to the season, the Coyotes have cooled off some; in their past 10 games, the Coyotes have a 4-5-1 record. Although near .500 hockey is not the worst of fates, it is enough to put them out of the playoff picture in the absurdly competitive Western Conference.
From a production standpoint, Phoenix has not had their best players consistently providing points. Radim Vrbata has one assist in his last five games, and Martin Hanzal has gone pointless in his last six. Although the Coyotes have managed to survive their goalless droughts thanks to the likes of Mike Ribeiro, Rob Klinkhammer, Mikkel Boedker, and even Paul Bissonnette, Hanzal and Vrbata are two players who need to produce consistently for the Coyotes to have success.
Though they don't see each other often, Montreal must enjoy playing Phoenix. The Habs have not lost to the Coyotes since December 9th, 1998. Montreal is getting it done with defense: they give up very few goals at even strength or on the power play. Players like P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov on the back end are a big reason why Montreal is battling with perennial rivals Boston for the Atlantic Division lead.
The Habs weakness, however, comes on offense. Their 21st ranked offense in the NHL has had a considerably rougher time as of late; in their past six games, the Canadiens have managed to score three or more goals in a game only once. Although their record over that stretch is an even 3-3-0, low offensive production is generally not conducive to winning many games in a row.
For more on the Canadiens, be sure to check out Eyes On The Prize.
Keys to the Game
- No Penalties - Montreal is excellent on the power play, which also serves to highlight how problematic their even strength scoring is. Phoenix would be better off not giving the Habs the man advantage and not giving them space to work with.
- Contain Their Speed - The Habs are a very quick team; players like Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk may not be big but they can get through the neutral zone quickly. The Coyotes' defense has been caught flat-footed at various points in the season; they can't afford to be tonight.
- Get Garbage Goals - Because the defense is so stingy, the Coyotes should not give Carey Price or Peter Budaj easy looks at the puck. Justin Peters in the Carolina game had a lot of chances to see shots on the way in. Screen the goaltender, find the soft spots, capitalize on rebounds, and take two points out of this game.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Antoine Vermette||9||10||19||5||18|
The Quebec native has some familiarity with Montreal from his time with the Ottawa Senators, but more importantly his skills in the faceoff circle will be essential, especially if the Coyotes are shorthanded.
|2013 - Alex Galchenyuk||10||12||22||-1||16|
For Coyotes fans, this will be the first look at a guy who may be wearing a different shade of red, white, and blue come February. Galchenyuk is fast and skilled; Phoenix will need to contain him as best they can in the neutral zone.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Mike Smith||27||1572||14||7||5||78||2.98||874||796||.911||0|
Mike Smith only gave up two goals in the loss to Carolina. Hopefully this is the beginning of a return to form for the Coyotes' netminder, who will likely go tonight.
|2013 - Carey Price||27||1589||15||10||2||53||2.00||816||763||.935||2|
Carey Price has been pretty darn good this season. Considering he is in the mix for the starter's job at the Olympics, he picked a good time to play well. Neither of the two Habs goaltenders is a bad option at this point.
The Coyotes will once again be without their captain Shane Doan (unspecified illness), who did not travel with the team. Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) and Derek Morris (personal matter) are both trying to get back into game shape and will likely not be playing tonight either.
Bit of an unusual time for Coyotes fans; the puck drops at 5:30 PM Arizona time. You can catch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen to it on KMVP 860 AM.