The Phoenix Coyotes knew coming out of the Olympic break they had to make hay on the road to give themselves a chance to make the postseason. They had two East Coast trips in March that could make or break their playoff hopes. The first was a four game trip that began with a blown two-goal, third period advantage in the nation's capitol and ended with them getting four of eight points. On this current trio of road tests, they have earned three of four points so far, with two more left to grab in the swamps of New Jersey. Standing between them and an extremely successful Eastern Conference challenge are the New Jersey Devils, a team fighting for their playoff lives with time running out.
Matchup at a glance
New Jersey Devils
|Points||82 (4th Pacific)||75 (6th Metropolitan)|
|Goals per game||2.70 (16th)||2.43 (23rd)|
|Goals against per game||2.77 (18th)||2.49 (11th)|
|Power play %||20.8 (4th)||20.6 (5th)|
|Penalty kill %||79.4 (27th)||86.6 (1st)|
New Jersey Devils
Currently, the Devils find themselves five points out a playoff spot with 10 games to go. The good news for the team and their fans is that New Jersey's schedule the rest of the way shapes up pretty nicely. The last 10 games of their schedule sees them facing only two teams currently holding a playoff spot. They finish at home against the Boston Bruins. The other game is tonight's matchup with the Coyotes. With all those games against teams outside the playoff picture, the time is now for the Devils if they expect to make that push. The Coyotes need to be ready to face a team with nothing to lose, throwing everything up to and including the kitchen sink, at them tonight.
The Devils are led by the old guard of Patrik Elias and the immortal Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team in goals, assists, points and social security checks. The biggest surprise for the Devils this year has been the emergence of Andy Greene as a top pair defenseman. His 31 points trail only Marek Zidlicky for blueline points for Jersey and he leads the team in ice time, averaging 24:21 a game.
New Jersey's biggest advantage, and at times, greatest detriment is their goaltending one-two punch of Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is expected to get the call between the pipes tonight, which is surprising given that he has lost his last three starts and Schneider has won his last two. It may be the last time that Coyotes fans get to see Marty in game action, so enjoy it while you can.
The Coyotes probably would have been happy to take three of six points on this trip, especially if you told them that Mike Smith would be injured during it. Now that they have already pocketed those three points, not coming home with five would be a disappointment.
One thing Phoenix has done incredibly well since the return from the Olympics has been getting the early lead. The Coyotes have scored first in 12 of the 15 games since the break. However, that has led to the panic over blowing leads, as the Coyotes are only 7-3-2 in those games, good for a .583 win percentage (before the Oylmpics, they were 21-8-3 in that situation for a .657 win percentage). If the Coyotes could turn two of those losses into wins, they would be ahead of Minnesota right now in seventh place in the Western Conference. That's how slim the margin of error is for any team hoping to make the playoffs and why consistency has been a buzzword surrounding the Yotes for the past month.
Keys to the Game
Score first. Simple, I know and I just talked about how the Coyotes haven't been rock solid if given an early lead, but New Jersey isn't a team built for comebacks. They are 4-22-6 if they allow the first goal, so putting them down early is a good place to start.
Be special with special teams. The Devils have been really good on the power play, which should shock no one on a team with Jaromir Jagr since he invented the idea of the power play (get it? he's old). And their top ranked pk should be fun to watch against our power play. The team that wins the special teams edge will give themselves the best chance at victory tonight.
Quantity and quality. The Devils are still kicking in the playoff picture because of their defense and one thing that helps them more than anything is their shot prevention. They allow the fewest shots on goal in the league, 25.5 per game, and their top shelf goaltending takes it from their. The Coyotes need to shoot early and often and put pressure on the Devils backend.
Player to Watch
|2013 - Oliver Ekman-Larsson||13||27||40||1||46|
OEL had his four game point streak snapped against the Penguins, but he still led the team in ice time with over 27 minutes. While not quite as hot as Keith Yandle since the Olympic break, Ekman-Larsson has still been fantastic, with five goals and six assists in 15 games while playing his usual stellar two way game. He's never had a point in three career games against the Devils. Now would be a good time to get his first.
Projected Starting Goaltender
|2013 - Thomas Greiss||17||817||8||5||2||32||2.35||419||387||.924||2|
Thomas Greiss was stellar in picking up the pieces in Pittsburgh after his tough way to earn a loss performance in New York. With Smith still on the shelf, it's Greiss' time to shine and the Coyotes need him to continue to play like he has all year. A little extra offense for the guy would be appreciated though. Greiss has never faced New Jersey in his NHL career.
The Coyotes will enter play without David Schlemko (lower body) and Mike Smith, who will have his knee evaluated by team doctors on Friday when the team gets back to Glendale. Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) has missed the last two games due to a puck to the face and is questionable for tonight's matchup as well.
It's another early east coast start, as the opening face-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. Arizona time. The game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona and heard on KMVP 860 AM.