The recent road trip of the Phoenix Coyotes ended on a sour note as they were shutout by the Predators 3-0. The loss sends them back to the .500 mark (6-6-2) and in need of a couple of points to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference. The beginning of a short two-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets could help provide those two points.
The Jackets are starting to look like the team we all remember from last season. They sit at the bottom of the conference with 10 points. They have a -12 goal differential and find themselves near the bottom of the league in goals for and goals against.
The Coyotes should be mad about the way they lost against Nashville, because they were outplayed at their own game. The last time these two teams met, Phoenix torched the Jackets in a 5-1 victory that saw Steve Sullivan record a hat trick in only his third game with Phoenix. The Coyotes wouldn't mind a repeat of that performance.
Five For Winning
Shoot. Up until recently, the Coyotes had done a pretty good job getting pucks on net. On Thursday they only managed 19 shots, due in part to some excellent shot-blocking by Nashville, but also due to some hesitation and over-selectiveness. The Coyotes need to change that.
Pounce on Them Early. The Blue Jackets played last night in Los Angeles, which means they will have arrived in Phoenix very early this morning. The Coyotes need to take advantage of those tired legs by bringing the offensive pressure from the very beginning of the game.
Find the Power Play Mojo. The Coyotes' power play has returned to its old form, and that's not a good thing. While their movement remains good, their zone entries have become problematic again and they are passing up good shots to try and find perfect ones. Keep the puck in the zone and put pressure on the Jackets' goaltender.
Play a Clean Game. There are a lot of little things the Coyotes need to do well. Minimize the turnovers, avoid taking dumb penalties, and clog the neutral zone to give the team a chance to win.
Don't Give This Away. This game is extremely winnable for the Coyotes. They're playing a struggling team on the second half of a road back-to-back. They need to take care of business.
Players to Watch
Much like the Coyotes, the Jackets no longer have one go-to goal scorer with the departure of Rick Nash for New York. Mark Letestu is currently their leading goal scorer and is second in points.
Vrbata leads the Desert Dogs in points so far with 11, but they haven't come like they normally do. He has only 3 goals on the year, something the Coyotes will want him to change soon.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
With Sergei Bobrovsky playing the night before in Los Angeles, it's highly likely that Mason will get the nod in Phoenix. The Coyotes will be just fine with that, since he gave up five goals the last time these two teams met.
Mike Smith had a fairly good game against Nashville, but ultimately didn't get a whole lot of help from his offense. Expect to see him in goal for tonight's game.
For the Blue Jackets, Cam Atkinson missed Friday night's game against LA, and it is unlikely that he will play against Phoenix. Artem Anisimov was injured in last night's game after blocking a shot with his foot. While there is no permanent injury, he is still questionable for tonight's game. James Wisniewski also didn't make the trip in order to be with his wife for the birth of their baby. Defenseman John Moore also remains questionable.
The only new injury to report for the Coyotes is that Derek Morris is day-to-day with an upper body injury; the Coyotes will evaluate him during the morning skate and see if he is healthy enough to play. David Schlemko and Matthew Lombardi remain out indefinitely with upper body injures.