Phoenix Coyotes @ Florida Panthers preview: long time no see

Joel Auerbach

The Phoenix Coyotes play the Florida Panthers for the first time since December of 2011.

Say what you will about their third period collapses, but the Phoenix Coyotes are probably thrilled to take two points out of last night's shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tonight's game against the Florida Panthers will challenge them in different ways.

Matchup at a Glance

Phoenix Coyotes Florida Panthers
Points 71 (4th Pacific) 55 (6th Atlantic)
Goals Per Game 2.71 (16th) 2.33 (27th)
Goals Against Per Game 2.82 (18th) 3.14 (27th)
Power Play Percentage 20.8% (T-7th) 9.6% (30th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 79.6% (27th) 75.5% (30th)

Phoenix Coyotes

Not only did the Coyotes get two points last night, they managed to do it with several of their usual role players not dressing. Derek Morris and Rob Klinkhammer got the night off, and their positions were filled admirably by Brandon Gormley and Andy Miele. Not only does this give the Coyotes a chance to see what their youngsters can do, but it also leaves some of the veterans fresher for the second half of a road back-to-back.

Phoenix may still be without the services of Martin Hanzal, but the other Martin on their team got a very important goal last night. Trade acquisition Martin Erat recorded only his second goal of the year on a botched pass by Tampa's Victor Hedman. While Erat is adjusting nicely to the Coyotes lineup, Phoenix fans undoubtedly want to see what all three Czechs: Erat, Hanzal, and Radim Vrbata, can do together.

Florida Panthers

Just two seasons ago the Florida Panthers had won the Southeast Division and hosted the New Jersey Devils for the first round of the playoffs. How things change.

The current incarnation of the Panthers is sixteen points back of a playoff spot and boasts a 12-14-4 record at home. Despite their position, they did not do much selling at the Trade Deadline. They shipped Mike Weaver up to Montreal and Marcel Goc over to Pittsburgh.

That isn't to say Florida did not make a splash at the deadline. Florida re-acquired longtime goaltender/albatross/Twitter star Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony from Vancouver in a deal that shipped Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom to British Columbia. Luongo recorded a shutout in his first game back in South Florida, so it probably goes without saying that he is happy to be out of the mess that is the Vancouver Canucks.

Keys to the Game

  • Exploit the Special Teams Disparity - Florida's power play is historically bad, and their penalty kill is actually worse than Phoenix's. The Coyotes need to have a positive goal differential on special teams tonight.
  • Stay Fresh - The Coyotes did a pretty good job balancing ice time last night among their forwards; they're going to need a similar strategy tonight to avoid tiring.
  • Avoid the "Trap Game" - Thursday night's tilt against the Boston Bruins understandably looms large on the schedule. But the Coyotes need to focus on the here and now. Florida is a team they should beat, and if they can play a full 60 minutes (a big "if" at this point I know), that will be a tremendous confidence booster going into Boston.

Player to Watch

Antoine Vermette

#50 / Center / Phoenix Coyotes

6-1

198

Jul 20, 1982

G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Antoine Vermette 22 18 40 -1 34

As usual. Antoine Vermette did a little of everything last night. He also played the most minutes of any forward, so it will be interesting to see how much energy he has.

Projected Starting Goaltender

Thomas Greiss

#1 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes

6-1

220

Jan 29, 1986

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2013 - Thomas Greiss 15 748 7 5 28 2.25 385 357 .927 2

As of this writing Dave Tippett has not decided who will go in net for tonight's game. While the second half of road back-to-backs tends to be Thomas Greiss territory, Tippett has gone with Smith twice in row on occasion.

Update: I'm wrong again:

Injury Report

For the Coyotes, David Schlemko (leg) will not play, and Martin Hanzal (lower body) is questionable.

For the Panthers, second overall pick in 2013 Aleksander Barkov (knee) is likely done for the year, and neither Erik Gudbranson (knee) or Tomas Kopecky (concussion) are expected to play tonight.

Puck Drop

Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, another early game for Arizonans. Tonight's game can be seen at 4:30 on Fox Sports Arizona or heard on KMVP 860 AM.

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