The Phoenix Coyotes begin a short road trip with the goal of fixing whatever is ailing them. Meanwhile the Winnipeg Jets have to come to terms with their team's struggles. There is a lot at stake in tonight's game.
Matchup at a Glance
|Phoenix Coyotes||Winnipeg Jets|
|Points||51 (5th Pacific)||43 (7th Central)|
|Goals Per Game||2.93 (6th)||2.62 (16th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||3.00 (T-24th)||3.00 (T-24th)
|Power Play Percentage||19.0% (13th)||15.0% (25th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||77.9% (26th)||83.3% (T-11th)|
Home has not been kind to the Coyotes as of late. In their longest homestand of the season, the Coyotes went a paltry 2-4-0. The team continues to give up goals at a torrid pace; in their four losses, the Coyotes conceded an unacceptable sixteen goals. In an attempt to give #1 netminder Mike Smith some more time to work with goaltending coach Sean Burke, Dave Tippett went with Thomas Greiss against the Anaheim Ducks. The change didn't change the Coyotes' fortunes, as they lost that game 5-3.
Winnipeg will be the first half of back to back games for the Coyotes on the road, with their second game being in St. Louis against the Blues. Although the goaltending controversy has generated a lot of discussion, it is important to note that many of the Coyotes' most important assets on offense, like Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette, and Martin Hanzal are not producing with consistency. The three have them have combined for just three goals in the past eight games, all of them coming off of Hanzal's stick.
The struggles of the team formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers have finally caused some organizational shakeups, as head coach Claude Noel and assistant coach Perry Pearn were both shown the door last weekend. The Jets tapped former NHL head coach Paul Maurice to fill the void. Maurice has been coaching in the KHL since being fired by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2012.
Although the Winnipeg media delights in blaming Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien for the team's struggles, the reality is that the team's back end, much like the Coyotes, is significantly more problematic. Ondrej Pavelec, the team's #1 goalie, is second to last among NHL starters in save percentage, and the team's defense is giving up goals at exactly the same pace as Phoenix.
For more on the Winnipeg Jets, be sure to check out Arctic Ice Hockey.
Keys to the Game
- Handle the Crowd - Though the matchup may not be all that exciting, Winnipeg fans have a special love (hate?) for the team that left them almost twenty years ago. If Phoenix can score early and deflate the crowd a little, they will have an easier time.
- Forget the Past - The Coyotes are well aware of what they have to do to win. They need to execute and not be concerned with their play in the past few weeks.
- Get Two Points - Phoenix is playing a team that is currently far away from them in terms of playoff position. Although winning in regulation is always preferred, getting two points out of this game is more important.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Mikkel Boedker||14||16||30||0||12|
Mikkel Boedker has arguably been the Coyotes' best player in 2014. After setting career highs in goals and points on the past homestand, Phoenix will continue to look for him to carry the offense.
|2013 - Blake Wheeler||16||17||33||-9||34|
Remember him? If you're a Coyotes fan, I'm sure you do. Blake Wheeler is not only one of the Jets' most prolific scorers, he is also an Olympian selected over Bobby Ryan. Those are some pretty high expectations.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Mike Smith||37||1107||15||11||102||2.89||1135||1033||.910||0|
Mike Smith was first off the ice in the morning skate, which means he will probably play tonight. He's gotten some extra work in with Sean Burke throughout the week, but it remains to be seen if that work will pay dividends.
|2013 - Ondrej Pavelec||35||2023||11||19||106||3.14||1037||931||.898||1|
The Jets #1 netminder has been anything but spectacular. This is not a matchup to tune in for if you are looking for high quality goaltending.
The Phoenix Coyotes are very close to being completely healthy. Zbynek Michalek (lower body) remains on IR, but traveled and practiced with the full squad.
The Jets are a slightly different story. Matt Halischuk (forearm) and Grant Clitsome (undisclosed) remain on IR, Paul Postma (leg) is not expected back until after the Olympic break, and Jim Slater (sports hernia surgery) is out indefinitely. Most troubling for Winnipeg though is the status of Evander Kane (hand), who remains questionable for tonight.
Tonight's game begins at 6 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on 92.3 KTAR.