In a tight playoff race like the one the Phoenix Coyotes find themselves in now, every game is a must win. However some games are more important than others, and this one qualifies.
The Phoenix Coyotes will need two points from tonight's home game against the second worst team in the NHL and the worst in the Western Conference: the Edmonton Oilers.
Matchup at a Glance
|Phoenix Coyotes||Edmonton Oilers|
|Points||85 (4th Pacific)||61 (7th Pacific)|
|Goals Per Game||2.61 (19th)||2.43 (25th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.75 (19th)||3.30 (30th)|
|Power Play Percentage||20.4% (6th)||16.6% (22nd)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||79.5% (25th)||82.3% (14th)|
The Oilers are bad. Really bad. They continue to concede goals at a ludicrous rate, and their offensive stars don't have a whole lot in the way of help. Ales Hemsky was dealt to Ottawa at the trade deadline, and the Oilers once again find themselves in contention for the #1 overall pick in a season that many expected them to be in contention for the playoffs.
That isn't to say that all has been bad for the Oilers. Their current goaltending tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth actually has a significant amount of promise, and Taylor Hall remains an electric player to watch in the offensive zone. Coyotes fans may also witness history tonight, as Ryan Smyth is one power play goal away from setting a franchise record for regular season power play goals as an Oiler. Yes, over Wayne Gretzky and Glenn Anderson. A penalty kill as anemic as Phoenix's is a prime opportunity for Smyth to notch power play goal #127.
Although the word "tailspin" might be a little hyperbolic given the Coyotes are 5-3-2 in their last ten games, the 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings could not have come at a worse time. The Dallas Stars had narrowed the gap between the two clubs, and Phoenix desperately needed another point after squandering one to the Winnipeg Jets the night before.
The offense remains largely stagnant, having only scored two goals in their past three games. Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette, Shane Doan, and Mike Ribeiro are all ice cold at the exact same time, while Mikkel Boedker is simply not able to carry the load for the team offensively. With a day to rest and a weak defense in front of them, the time to rebound is now.
Keys to the Game
- Have a big 1st period - At this point, Phoenix simply does not look like it is capable of stringing together solid 60 minute performances. So they would be better off jumping out to a substantial lead early on and putting the Oilers away early. Both Winnipeg and Minnesota got to hang around, with disastrous results.
- More than One and Done - Though Phoenix is having some bad luck in terms of converting scoring chances, the other part of the problem is that the Coyotes are not developing much in the way of second and third opportunities. They need to get the zone, hold the zone, and put pucks on net.
- Two points - Let's face it, the Coyotes should beat Edmonton at home. The Oilers are just not that good of a team. If you looked at the calendar and circled the best chance to pick up two points the rest of the way, it's this game. Don't blow it.
Player to Watch
Vrbata is currently stuck at the 20 goal mark, and is one point shy of 50 on the year. Hopefully he can change both of those numbers tonight.
Barring some truly horrific circumstances Thomas Greiss will be the Coyotes goaltender from here on out until Mike Smith gets back from injury.
With the season virtually over the Oilers have shutdown several of their injured players. Ryan Jones (knee surgery), Andrew Ference (torn pectoral muscle), Luke Gadzic (shoulder), and Jesse Joensuu (knee) are all done. Nail Yakupov (ankle) missed the past eight games and may miss tonight's as well.
Mike Smith (knee) will be re-evaluated by doctors on April 8th, so he's out until at least then. David Schlemko (lower body) and David Moss (lower body) continue to remain out indefinitely, though Moss at least appears reasonably close to returning.
Tonight's game begins at 7 PM Arizona time in Glendale. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen to the game on 860 AM KMVP.