Although Saturday night's loss to the Boston Bruins was disappointing, the Phoenix Coyotes have no time to wonder at what could have been. Their postseason margin of error simply does not allow them to indulge themselves.
The Coyotes will need to put together a complete game as they face the New York Rangers for the first time since the regular season began all the way back on October 3rd, 2013. Since then, the story of both teams has been a story of teams trending in opposite directions.
Matchup at a Glance
|Phoenix Coyotes||New York Rangers|
|Points||79 (4th Pacific)||82 (3rd Metropolitan)|
|Goals Per Game||2.69 (T-16th)||2.58 (19th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.76 (T-17th)||2.40 (6th)|
|Power Play Percentage||20.8% (T-3rd)||18.9% (12th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||79.6% (27th)||84.6% (T-6th)|
After soundly defeating the New York Rangers opening night by a final score of 4-1, the Coyotes looked like a real threat to make noise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mike Smith allowed only one goal and Radim Vrbata scored a hat trick. That game was the first win in one of the best early season runs in franchise history.
The Coyotes have needed every single point of that start now. They currently sit just two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for the final Wild Card spot, and Dallas has a game in hand after the Rich Peverley incident forced the postponement of their game against Columbus. With both teams tied on regulation & overtime wins, the Coyotes would find themselves out of the postseason if Dallas can pick up a victory in that game and ride an identical record the rest of the way. Phoenix still needs to be better.
New York Rangers
While the second half of the Coyotes' season was a terrible mix of poor defense and ineffective offense, the Rangers have rediscovered their identity. They hold a comfortable (relatively speaking) three point advantage over Washington for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division. Their offensive pieces like Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, and Rick Nash are humming along, and Henrik Lundqvist is being Henrik Lundqvist again.
Although the Rangers appear to be playoff bound, there are still major parts of their game that they would like to correct before the playoffs start. They are a paltry 16-16-4 at home. By contrast, every other team currently in a playoff spot in the NHL, Phoenix included, has a winning record at home, and seven non-playoff teams have winning home records as well. Although their stingy defense is once again helping them win, the offense is still not producing at a level Rangers' fans should be comfortable with. They have a lot on the line in tonight's game as well.
Keys to the Game
- Push Possession - Although the result against Boston was disappointing, the Coyotes outshot Tuukka Rask and held the zone for long stretches in the first and second period. They need to do that again.
- Avoid Catastrophe - Phoenix will likely make some mistakes in this game, and those mistakes could very easily translate into goals. They need to come back with strong shifts after bad ones to avoid allowing New York to dictate the pace of play for long stretches of time.
- Stay Away From Cheap Penalties - The Bruins played a chippy game Saturday night, and for the most part the Coyotes did a good job of avoiding dumb retaliatory penalties. With a team as frustrating as New York, they should try and do the same thing.
Player to Watch
OEL had an absolutely outstanding game against some of the league's most potent forwards in Boston. He'll need a similar effort against New York's best.
Projected Starting Goaltender
Mike Smith could very easily become a permanent fixture in the projected starting goaltender category. He will probably start tonight too.
For the Coyotes, David Schlemko (lower body) continues to be hampered by injury, and will probably not play tonight.
Thanks to the joy that is Daylight Savings Time, tonight's game begins at 4 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen at KMVP 860 AM.