During their weekend series against the Dallas Stars the Phoenix Coyotes finally looked like the team they were last year. They clogged up the neutral zone and prevented the other team from getting quality scoring opportunities. The defense was great, and goaltender Mike Smith played excellently in his second game back from a groin injury.
The Coyotes have hopefully started recovering from their injury problems, as things seem to be looking up for the Desert Dogs. Matthew Lombardi is still on the Injured Reserved list but Martin Hanzal returned to the lineup to play both games against the Stars. The defense has also played a lot better lately including Michael Stone who played big minutes in the past few games, something you may not expect from a player who started the season in Portland. But if you want the player who has made the biggest impact after coming up from the AHL look no further then the guy who scored the game winning goal against Dallas on Saturday, Nick Johnson.
The Minnesota Wild are definitely not the same team that they were last season. They are currently one point above the Coyotes in the standings with a 4-3-1 record, although they have yet to win a game on the road. During the offseason they made some big moves signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. These moves have already made an impact on the team as Parise currently leads the team in goals and points (5-4-9. However, a quick glance at the recap of their recent game against the Ducks seems to suggest that the first line was not able to generate the needed offense. Whether they will be able to bring their offense into Phoenix remains to be seen.
Five For Winning:
1. Special Teams. The Coyotes have been good on the penalty kill, and they have had an impressive power play point streak, but there were eight Dallas penalties on Saturday and the Yotes only scored one power play goal. If the other team is going to give up that many power play chances, the team needs to score and make them pay.
2. Clog the neutral zone. Minnesota has some offensive talent and the Coyotes can not give them chances to score. That starts with not giving them a chance to set up their offense. They definitely did this well against the Stars, and because of it Dallas only had no goals on only 17 shots.
3. Stay disciplined. The Coyotes had only two penalties against Dallas but they have taken some terrible penalties earlier this season (the bench minor for too many men on the ice definitely stands out). This is especially true for Raffi Torres who played a very clean, yet physical first game back since his 21 game suspension.
4. Score first. The story of the season for the Coyotes thus far is that they have spent most of it playing from behind. While they are a team that is able to handle that, things are much easier when they have the lead.
5. Pretend it's last year. Last season the Coyotes did not lose a game in regulation for the entire month of February. If they can get into that mindset and play the way they did last year, maybe we can see an equally impressive feat this season.
Players to Watch:
#32 / Phoenix Coyotes
Dec 24, 1985
Johnson has played excellently since getting recalled from Portland and has definitely earned his spot on the roster. He currently has four points in five games (3-1-4). He also spent last season playing with the Wild, so his knowledge of the team may prove useful.
As previously hinted, Parise wasn't great against the Ducks but he is still leading the team in goals and points. The Yotes should be wary of him and not give him an inch of space on the ice.
Likely Starting Goalies:
Smith has played great since coming back, even if he wasn't really tested on Saturday. He is healthy and playing great and Yotes fans seem to be breathing a little easier with Smitty back in net, looking in top form.
Backstrom has been impressive so far this season. He has started five games and is 3-2-1. He has a 2.51 save percentage and has only allowed 15 total goals. Even after their recent loss, Wild fan's praised his efforts in goal.
Matthew Lombardi is still out and Rostislav Klesla are Steve Sullivan are questionable. David Rundblad was recently called up from the Sundogs on Sunday, so it is possible that Klesla will be sitting out yet another game.
Jared Spurgeon is listed as day to day with a lower body injury.