After finding a way to actually earn two points in 65 minutes of work on New Year's Eve, the Coyotes look to ring in 2014 by starting a winning streak against former conference foe Columbus.
Columbus Blue Jackets
|Points||38 (7th in Metropolitan)||49 (5th in Pacific)|
|Goals per game||2.68 (13th)||2.97 (6th)|
|Goals against per game||2.90 (23rd)||2.97 (25th)|
|Power play percentage||16.7 (21st)||19.7 (10th)|
|Penalty kill percentage||79.0 (25th)||79.1 (24th)|
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets enter Thursday night's contest on a two-game losing streak and losers in five of their last eight games. Expectations were high for Columbus after almost making the playoffs in 2013 and moving to the less competitive Eastern Conference. Things haven't worked out as expected though, as sluggish play and injuries have left the Jackets in the bottom portion of the conference and on the outside of the playoff picture. Just six points separate Columbus from the third spot in their division, so a good run could get them right back into the thick of it.
The Jackets have been a thorn in the side of the Coyotes recently, having gone 4-3-0 against the Yotes since the start of the 2011-12 season. One player who has enjoyed playing the Coyotes is R.J. Umberger, with nine points in 20 career games against Phoenix.
Keith Yandle's heroics on Tuesday night ended 2013 on a high note for the Yotes. Starting off 2014 with another win would be a good way to ring in the new, doing so in regulation would just be icing on the cake.
The Coyotes power play failed to produce in two chances against the Oilers, but the much maligned penalty kill came through with a huge effort in the one chance they had Tuesday, stopping the Oilers' four on three advantage in extra time. Another stellar penalty kill effort would be appreciated tonight.
Keys to the Game
- Critical Hit. The Coyotes power play has hit a bit of a snag recently, going 3 for 17 (17.6%) in the past five games. More distressing is that those power plays have come in critical situations and have not always been impressive. Columbus has a penalty kill that actually ranks lower than Phoenix's, so if they take trips to the box, the Desert Dogs need to make them pay.
- Combo Breaker. Columbus has relied on a balanced offensive attack this season, with six different skaters having at least 20 points and five players with at least 10 goals. It's been especially impressive given that Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik have combined for 18 games of action. The Coyotes defense will need to strong and focused to keep the Jackets from piling on tonight.
- Finish Him. Phoenix dominated the Oilers for 18:30 minutes of the first period, outshooting them 21-6 in that span, yet found themselves tied 1-1 when it was all said and done. Too often this season, the Coyotes have dominated an opponent with their play, but haven't paid it off on the scoreboard. Starting 2014 by jumping on the Jackets and keeping them down would be a great start to the second half.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Ryan Johansen||16||16||32||-4||18|
Johansen leads the Jackets in points and has become their best offensive forward with the injuries to Gaborik and Horton. He has four goals and an assist for five points in the last five games. In four career games against Phoenix, he has yet to record a point.
|2013 - Keith Yandle||6||21||27||-5||28|
Yandle was a one man wrecking crew against the Oilers on Tuesday night, scoring two goals and assisting on the game tying goal in the final two minutes of regulation while playing a team high 28:24.
One can't help but wonder how Yandle will react to being snubbed by the Team USA selection committee for an Olympic roster spot. I, for one, believe that Yandle will play with a major chip on his shoulder to prove to all his doubters that he should be an Olympian.
Likely Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Curtis McElhinney||17||885||6||7||41||2.78||444||403||.908||1|
A former Coyote farmhand, McElhinney has been called into action after the injury to reigning Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob is expected to be activated off the IR for tonight's game, but not expected to man the pipes.
|2013 - Mike Smith||19||1107||12||3||53||2.87||637||584||.917||0|
Right now, it feels like three things are certain in this life: death, taxes and Mike Smith starting in the Coyotes net. Smith had been playing well over the last few games before the wheels fell off Tuesday night against the Oilers, allowing three goals on only ten shots before being yanked early in the second. A rebound game against the Blue Jackets would be nice. So would a replay of this effort:
The Blue Jackets will be without the services of Gaborik, Jared Boll and Matt Calvert tonight who are all on the IR. Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to be activated from the IR, but will ride the pine in his first game back. Also returning to the lineup tonight is defenseman Dalton Prout. There is also a good chance that Nathan Horton plays his first game for Columbus after signing as a free agent in the summer, as he has missed the whole season to this point after shoulder surgery, but has been practicing with the team for the past few days.
The game will commence at 7 p.m. Arizona time. It will be broadcasted on KTVK (3TV) and heard on KMVP 860 AM.