After a stretch of inconsistent play through the months of December and January, the Phoenix Coyotes finally appear to be returning to the style of hockey that has given them so much success over the past five years. Tonight, they hope to extend their winning streak to three when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Points||55 (4th Atlantic)||55 (5th Pacific)|
|Goals Per Game||2.64 (17th)||2.81 (9th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.96 (T-24th)||2.94 (T-22nd)|
|Power Play Percentage||22.4% (4th)||19.8% (9th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||77.3% (27th)||78.7% (26th)|
Toronto Maple Leafs
This season's edition of the Maple Leafs are seen, rightly or wrongly, as the litmus test for the ability of advanced statistics to predict on-ice performance. Toronto has given up a staggering 1816 shots on the season; the next closest team, the Washington Capitals, has allowed nearly 200 fewer shots in just one less game. Getting outshot this regularly tends to mean that your team is not possessing the puck. If advanced statistics are accurate, that generally will translate into more losses than wins.
The Leafs however, are doing their best to defy that trend. At 25-20-5, they sit in the first Wild Card spot, up three points on the Detroit Red Wings, and are actually 6-4-0 in their last 10. Although part of this success may be chalked up to playing in an Eastern Conference that is generally considered to be weaker than the West, the Leafs appear to be a better team than most give them credit for.
Phoenix fans are desperately looking for the defense to re-assert itself, and over the past couple of games, they've gotten their wish. Phoenix has allowed just four goals in their last three games, and Mike Smith registered his first shut out of the season against Pacific Division foe Vancouver. With a couple games in hand over both the Canucks and the Minnesota Wild, a winning streak now could vault the Coyotes back into a playoff spot.
Depending on which side of the coin you see, it is either comforting or concerning that Phoenix is getting it done despite some key offensive players struggling to find the scoresheet. Radim Vrbata has not scored a goal in his past eleven games, Shane Doan has gone six without a tally, and Rob Klinkhammer has been in the press box as a healthy scratch the past two games. Though Jeff Halpern, Jordan Szwarz, and other depth players have done a pretty good job carrying the load this past week, the Coyotes' best players need to be their best players.
Keys to the Game
- SHOOT - This should not come as a challenge to the Coyotes, as Toronto allows a substantial amount of shots. But the busier James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier have to be, the better off Phoenix will be.
- Don't Allow Cheap Opportunities - Toronto's power play is deadly, and Phoenix's penalty kill is too; deadly to itself. Since Phoenix is one of the most penalized teams in the NHL, avoiding the box will make their chances much better.
- Protect Home Ice - Toronto has never won a game at Jobing.com Arena. Don't let this game be the first.
Players to Watch
|2013 - Tyler Bozak||9||14||23||4||8|
Injuries at the center position have depleted some of Toronto's depth, but Tyler Bozak has played very well this season.
|2013 - Radim Vrbata||11||24||35||-2||16|
If Radim Vrbata can get hot again soon, the Coyotes will be hard to beat. Right now though, he's ice cold.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
|2013 - Jonathan Bernier||35||1990||16||14||86||2.59||1157||1071||.926||1|
The Leafs have an excellent goalie tandem in Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, but right now Bernier is the hot hand.
|2013 - Mike Smith||41||1107||17||13||111||2.83||1255||1144||.912||1|
Mike Smith has benefited from a healthy defensive corps and some time with goaltending coach Sean Burke to work on his game. His season numbers are still average but trending in the right direction.
The Leafs have plenty of injury problems right up the middle of their lineup. Offseason acquisitions David Clarkson (bursa sac) and David Bolland (ankle) are both on injured reserve, as are Trevor Smith (hand) and Frazier McLaren (shoulder). Defenseman Mark Fraser has been battling the flu and is questionable for tonight's game.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a clean bill of health since Zbynek Michalek made his way back into the lineup a few games ago.
Unlike most weeknight games, tonight's tilt starts at 6 p.m. Arizona time. The game will be televised on FOX Sports Arizona and broadcast on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.