The Phoenix Coyotes recent time on the road in Western Canada wasn’t the most successful trip, but they came away with 3 points and an impressive win over the Vancouver Canucks. The struggles of the past two games didn’t really seem to come into play as the Coyotes were able to maintain their lead and score goals despite injuries to 2 of their top line. Although this may be the game where we finally see the return of D-man Derek Morris, it appears that the Desert Dogs will again be without top scorers Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal. The last time these two teams met though Hanzal and Vrbata were both involved in the game winning goal in the Coyotes 2-1 victory, whether or not their presence will continue to be missed remains to be seen.
The Wild haven’t played great on the road this past month, but they haven’t played terribly either. They are 5-2-1 in their last 8 games. They are coming off a win against the Calgary Flames at home, but this month they have dropped games against the Flames, the Canucks, the Anaheim Ducks, and of course their previous game against the Phoenix Coyotes. They also let the struggling Colorado Avalanche take them to overtime, although they did come out of that game with two points. The Wild are currently 1 point behind the Yotes in the standings with a game in hand, so a victory here is very important, as far as the playoffs are concerned. Curiously enough the Wild also have the lowest goals for in the league with 39, and although they do not allow many goals either with 43.
Five For Winning
1. 11. Defense. As previously mentioned the Wild do not score a lot of goals. It is important that the Coyotes play well defensively to keep them off the score card. This includes doing the little things like clearing the zone and clogging up the neutral zone that prevent the Wild from taking a lot of shots, or at least making sure the shots they take aren’t good ones.
2. 22. Play 20 minute periods. Last season the Coyotes had a few problems finishing periods and games. This season the problem has reappeared. If the Yotes want 2 points they are going to need to make sure they play 20 solid minutes of hockey each period, and not let opponents score in the final minutes.
3. 33. Shots from everyone. With 2/3rds of the Coyotes top line injured the Coyotes are going to need to continue generating offense from everyone. Kyle Chipchura has been the big success story, and even Paul Bissonnette is generating points, and the Yotes are going to need to continue getting points from everyone.
4.4.4. Disciplined play. Last time the Desert Dogs played the Wild they didn’t have many penalties. Although the Wild do not have many goals this season they do have offensive talent, and they shouldn’t give that talent a chance to shine with a man advantage.
5.5.5. Score first. Things go so much easier for the Coyotes when they are playing with a lead and not struggling to come back against a team. The Wild may not score a lot, but they don’t let a lot through either, so if the Yotes give up the lead they may not be able to regain it.
Players To Watch
Lauri Korpikoski has been quiet lately, having not scored a goal since the last time the Yotes played the Wild earlier this month. He’s notched a few assists since then, but no goals. Since Korpi seems to only want to score against Finnish goaltenders, this may be a good night for him to get out of his recent slump and continue that odd trend.
Ryan Suter has also not scored many goals lately, but he has 7 assists in the last 8 games. Tonight may be the night he finally scores again, but even if he doesn’t expect him to be generating some offense in some way.
Likely Starting Goalies
Although the team didn’t play great on the road against Edmonton and Calgary, the fault doesn’t really lie with Mike Smith. Smitty has played good in net, and currently leads the league in shutouts. Although based on their numbers we shouldn’t expect Minnesota to bring too much offense, Smith still needs to counter whatever they bring.
Niklas Backstrom may have had a bit of a slow start but he has played better as of late. He currently has a better save percentage and goals against average then Mike Smith, however Smith has less goals against and has played in more games. Backstrom is coming off a win though, and he has only won back to back games twice this season, on February 11 against the Calgary Flames.
Derek Morris may finally be returning to the lineup tonight. Coyotes Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal are both questionable for the game, although they will likely not be ready. David Schlemko is out with an upper body injury.
Make sure you come back later today for our game day thread and check out Hockey Wilderness for the opposition's point of view.