The Phoenix Coyotes are coming off of one of their best games of the season even if it was in a losing effort. The Vancouver Canucks are playing on back-to-back nights after one of the worst performances from any team this season. Will the Coyotes be able to capitalize and end their losing streak?
By the Numbers
|Vancouver Canucks||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Points||57 (4th Pacific)||51 (5th Pacific)|
|Goals per game||2.50 (20th)||2.80 (7th)|
|Goals against per game||2.50 (11th)||3.00 (27th)|
|Power play %||15.4 (24th)||19.6 (9th)|
|Penalty kill %||86.5 (2nd)||78.2 (26th)|
We all know about the recent struggles for the Coyotes, but it hasn't been much better for Vancouver either. The Canucks are 1-4-3 in their last eight games and have lost both games to start their current three game road trip that ends tonight. Included in those losses is a 9-1 whooping from the Ducks last night in Anaheim. Vancouver allowed six (SIX!) power play goals in 11 short-handed scenarios. And you thought Phoenix's PK was awful. The third period included a complete meltdown as Tom Sestito, Zack Kassian, and Jannik Hansen combined for three misconducts and 44 minutes of penalties for one altercation midway through the period.
Vancouver's usual offensive wizardry has been missing most of the season, ranking in the lower third of the league offensively. One big reason has been the struggles of the power play, 24th in the league, which seems almost impossible with the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Alexander Edler and the other weapons on the roster. Perhaps they miss the services of Newell Brown, the assistant coach the Coyotes signed away this offseason, who has turned the Phoenix unit from a constant league cellar dweller to a top-10 unit.
Amazingly, even with the awful performance last night, Vancouver's penalty kill still ranks second in the league.
Despite losing 2-1 on Tuesday against the Blues, Phoenix played a pretty darn good game, dominating possession and putting all kinds of pressure on Jaroslav Halak. They just weren't able to finish, which has become an issue over the last month. Even though their offense still ranks in the top 10 of the league, the Coyotes have scored one goal or less in five of their last eleven games.
The biggest reason for the offensive decline in that stretch is the disappearance of Martin Hanzal, Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata on the score sheet. They have combined for seven goals and 14 assists in that stretch, which seems decent, until you realize that Ribeiro has more goals than Vrbata (two to one) and Vrby has more helpers than Ribs (six to four) in that span. Which isn't playing to the strengths of those players.
One player coming around again is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He scored both Coyotes goals on the short two game road swing, his first goals in 24 games. He also played over 27 minutes in both games and was a dynamo in St. Louis with six shots on goal.
Phoenix has earned points in both previous games against Vancouver, a 3-2 shootout victory in November and a 3-2 OT loss on December 6th. This is the first of two match ups between the teams over the next ten days.
Keys to the Game
- Start strong. Vancouver played last night and was humiliated in Anaheim. They will come out throwing haymakers and the Coyotes need to be prepared to play right from the opening puck drop.
- Discipline. This isn't just about not taking penalties. The Coyotes got burned puck watching against the Blues and it cost them. They need to be aware in the defensive zone and not take bad penalties.
- Finish. David Moss had a glorious chance hit the knob of Halak's stick. Vrbata drilled the crossbar. The Coyotes were inches from victory in St. Louis but didn't take advantage of the opportunity. They have to bury those chances tonight.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Chris Higgins||12||13||25||-3||16|
The Coyotes generally do a good job of bottling up the Sedin twins when playing Vancouver. In turn, this makes the Canucks secondary scoring all the more important, and Higgins has been one of their best at that. His play has become much more important with the injury to Alex Burrows. Higgins has only scored against Phoenix once, but it was the OT winner in the last meeting between the teams.
|2013 - Mikkel Boedker||14||18||32||-2||12|
Boedker has already set career highs in goals and points. After struggling through late October and early November, Mikkel has been the Coyotes most consistent scorer over the last ten games. He has four goals and four assists in that stretch, with seven of those points coming in the team's last six games. Imagine what he could do if he was playing with Ribeiro or the Czech line.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Eddie Lack||19||1014||8||5||38||2.25||475||437||.920||2|
Lack was pulled early in the second last night after giving up three goals on only 13 shots. Since winning three in a row in late December, Lack has struggled in place of an injured Roberto Luongo. He's 1-3-3 in his last seven starts.
|2013 - Mike Smith||19||1107||12||3||53||2.87||637||584||.917||0|
Smith didn't see much action against the Blues on Tuesday as St. Louis only got 18 shots on goal. The game winning goal came on a screen that Smith didn't do much to get around on. As much as Lack has struggled recently, Smith isn't much better off. He's not won a game since December 21st against Ottawa and is 1-6-3 in his last 10 decisions.
Vancouver will play without Ryan Stanton and Jordan Schroeder, both on the IR with ankle injuries. Andrew Alberts is out with a concussion and Alex Burrows is on the IR with a broken jaw. Roberto Luongo won't play because of injury, but is close to returning to the lineup.
The Coyotes placed Rusty Klesla on waivers and have activated Zbynek Michalek.
Tonight's game will begin at 7 p.m. Arizona time and will be seen on FSAZ and will be broadcast over the radio waves on KMVP 860 AM.