The end of the three game series with the Anaheim Ducks was a frustrating affair, with a clearly tired Phoenix Coyotes team losing 2-0. They don't get much time off, however, as they are back in action tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Phoenix is caught in the middle of the quagmire that is the Western Conference playoff picture; they currently sit in 7th place with 25 points.
St. Louis is not doing much better though. Although they only have one fewer point than the Coyotes do, they are currently out of the playoffs in 9th place. Despite a strong start, the Blues have had troubling finding the back of the net, and in their last game they managed to blow a 4-1 lead against the Los Angeles Kings to lose 6-4. The goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott which looked spectacular last season, has looked rather average when it's been healthy this season.
Although the challenge is daunting, the Coyotes do not want to concede points to a team beneath them in the standings. Phoenix will need to put up a fight against a team they went 1-3-0 against last season.
Five For Winning
1. Score First. The second half of a back-to-back has always tended to be a challenge for the Coyotes. Their job will be made significantly easier if they can score first and settle into their defensive style of play.
2. Control the Puck. Similarly to the first point, the Coyotes do not want to expend a whole lot of energy chasing the puck and landing punishing hits. If they can keep the pace of the game slow and keep possession for long periods of time, hopefully they will have more energy as the game goes on.
3. Steal One. Mike Smith got shellacked for 8 goals in two games against the Ducks, and hasn't really stolen a game since that 1-0 shootout win in San Jose. Thankfully Smitty got two days rest by sitting the final Anaheim game out. The Coyotes could use a bounce back performance from #41.
4. Special Teams. I'm sure this sounds like a broken record by now, but the Coyotes power play has got to produce something. While it doesn't necessarily have to be goals, the Coyotes do have to at least threaten the net and get a few shots. Yesterday's power play efforts were too cute; simplify the passing and take plenty of shots.
5. Call in the Reserves. There are a few guys who may make a reappearance in the lineup. If Paul Bissonnette and David Rundblad see ice-time, they will need to provide a bit of a spark to help some of the other Coyotes overcome their tired legs.
Players to Watch
With 9 goals, Patrik Berglund has been the Blues' most prolific goal scorer this season. He also has 3 power play goals on the year, so the Coyotes would probably like to keep him off the scoresheet this time.
Hanzal didn't quite look at his best against Anaheim last night, but he's a player the Coyotes will desperately need down low in the crease. Hopefully he can find a parking spot in front of the goaltender and stay there for a while, especially on the power play.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
Allen was called up again from AHL Peoria yesterday, and given the struggles of Blues' goaltending, there's a decent chance he sees action tonight. In 4 NHL starts, Allen is 3-1-0 with a 2.62 GAA and a .895 SV%.
Jason LaBarbera played yesterday, so it's practically a shoo-in that Smith plays tonight. He tends to perform well after a disappointing start, and surrendering four goals in two games in a row would certainly qualify as that.
There are quite a few significant St. Louis players out for this game. Jamie Langenbrunner will not be seen again this season (torn labrum), and Alexander Steen (shoulder) and Andy McDonald (knee) are on injured reserve. Rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko is also on IR after sustaining a concussion in late February, so Coyotes fans won't be seeing him either.
The injury sheet for the Coyotes is getting shorter of late. David Schlemko is still out with a shoulder injury, although all indications are that he may be returning fairly soon. Radim Vrbata is practicing with the team, but it is unlikely that he will suit up before Saturday's matchup with the Dallas Stars.