Minnesota Wild vs Phoenix Coyotes preview: a battle for 7th place

USA TODAY Sports

The Coyotes look to improve their playoff positioning and overtake the Wild for the 7th spot in the Western Conference.

The Minnesota Wild have been struggling lately, allowing the Phoenix Coyotes to get into the position where they can overtake them in the standings with a win tonight at Jobing.com Arena.  So far, these two teams have played each other twice, both times saw the visiting team win, while keeping the other team to one goal.

Matchup at a Glance


Minnesota Wild

Phoenix Coyotes

Points

85 (7th in West)

84 (8th in West)

Goals Per Game

2.38 (27th)

2.69 (17th)

Goals Against Per Game

2.41 (6th)

2.76 (18th)

Power Play

18.0% (16th)

20.6% (3rd)

Penalty Kill

79.0% (27th)

79.8% (26th)

Minnesota Wild

The Wild have struggled a bit in recent games, with a 2-4-2 record in their past eight and losses to the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues on a back-to-back which featured them being outscored 10-3 despite outshooting their opponents 59-43.

Part of Minnesota's recent woes can be attributed to goaltending, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom are both unable to play, which leaves Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov to pick up the pieces. The 23-year-old Kuemper has a 12-8-4 record on the season with a .915 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.

Phoenix Coyotes

At one point the Coyotes were low in the standings, facing the very real possibility that they wouldn't make it into the playoffs at all. Leading up to the trade deadline, there were very real conversations about whether or not they should be buyers or sellers, but they have really turned things around and tonight they have the opportunity to take the first wild card spot with a regulation win.

Much of the Coyotes' recent success can be attributed to the return to a more defensive style of play. The Coyotes are 7-2-1 in the past 10 games and they have kept their opponents to two goals or less in six of those games. Despite all of this, the Coyotes have been having issues with two-goal leads and the fact that they have allowed their opponents to come back far too many times. While this isn't necessarily affecting their position in the standings, it still should be something the team addresses moving forward before it becomes a playoff problem.

Keys to the Game

Special Teams. Despite a great goals against average, the Wild are not good on the penalty kill, ranking even lower then the Coyotes. Very rarely do the Yotes get to play against a team with a worse penalty kill, and they are going to want to take advantage of that.

Protect Greiss. In the past two games, the Yotes did a great job tightening up in front of their goaltender, thus making it difficult for the other team to score and they are going to want to do it again tonight. While a low shooting game was probably a given against the Devils, Greiss only saw 25 shots when the team played the Penguins, a team that averages 30.2 shots per game.

Play like you need to win. The Wild are going to play this game like it is a must-win because for them, it very much is. A regulation loss sees them dropping to 8th in the Western Conference and the possibility of playing the Blues in the first round, a matchup they would like to avoid. The Coyotes are going to need to match that intensity and play just as hungry as the Wild.

Likely Starting Goaltender


Thomas Greiss

#1 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes

6-1

220

Jan 29, 1986


GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2013 - Thomas Greiss 18 882 9 5 2 34 2.31 447 413 .931 2

Greiss has been good in his position as backup goaltender to an injured Mike Smith, helping the team win against the Devils and the Penguins while allowing only two goals in each game.  Despite somewhat limited playing time, he has a 9-5-2 record with a 5-on-5 save percentage of .940.

Player to Watch

Mike Ribeiro

#63 / Center / Phoenix Coyotes

6-0

177

Feb 10, 1980


G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Mike Ribeiro 15 30 45 -12 52

After the loss to the Rangers, coach Dave Tippett decided to send a message by sitting center Mike Ribeiro and defenseman Derek Morris for the games against the Penguins and the Devils. This was to send a message to them and to the team that they needed to step up. If Ribeiro is put in tonight it will be interesting to see how he reacts, and if he took that message to heart.

Injuries

For the Wild Jason Zucker, Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner,  Harding, and Backstrom are all out.

Smith is still out with an injury to his right leg and David Schlemko is out with a lower body injury from the game against the Montreal Canadiens.  David Moss was injured against the Devils and didn't finish the game and is questionable tonight.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game is at 6 p.m. at Jobing.com Arean and will be available on Fox Sports Arizona and AZ Sports 98.7 FM.

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