After turning the corner with a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, the Coyotes defend home ice once again when the New York Rangers bring their star-studded circus to Jobing.com Arena. The Rangers are currently riding a two-game losing streak and began their three-game road trip with a discouraging 4-1 drubbing in St. Louis. A hungry team hoping to keep pace within the highly competitive Western Conference, Phoenix will no doubt be focused on the task at hand, especially after a clear message was delivered by drastic lineup adjustments. Two teams enjoying successful seasons to date, both the Rangers and the Coyotes have lost 3 of their last 5 contests and look to put an end to their respective slumps tonight when the puck drops at 6:00 local time. Five for Winning after the jump...
Adjust to the Adjustments: Phoenix is a team in flux at the moment, considering the recent departure of disgruntled center Kyle Turris and top-flight defensemen Derek Morris' healthy scratch against Edmonton, and it appears head coach Dave Tippett wants to send the boys a message. In the case of Turris, the 2007 NHL Entry Draft's 3rd overall pick, potential never materialized into production and his contract holdout to begin this season likely closed the door on his Coyotes career. Morris, on the other hand, has been a consistent contributor to the Coyotes cause throughout seven scattered seasons with the club but his play has deteriorated drastically. With exactly zero goals and a team-worst +/- rating of -9, Morris rode the pine in the 'Yotes last game and it will be interesting to see if this motivational tactic succeeds in motivating him to step things up.
Dethrone King Henry: The Rangers boast a top-flight goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and his glittering goals-against-average of 2.07, which means the Coyotes will have to work hard and get bodies to the net. After a total of nine Coyotes registered a point in the win over Edmonton, the offense by committee strategy should be utilized again here tonight. The team will turn to Taylor Pyatt and Martin Hanzal in the effort to plant a body in the crease and screen the sizable Lundqvist's vision. A consistent forecheck and cycling down deep will be key tonight as the 'Yotes look to unseat the King.
Gum Up the Works for Gaborik: High-flying centerman Marian Gaborik has lit up Phoenix goaltending during his rise through ranks of hockey's elite scorers. With 14 points in 11 career games against the Desert Dogs, calling Gaborik a Coyotes-killer would be an understatement. Whomever stands between the pipes tonight for Phoenix will surely be tested by the Slovak Sniper, who leads New York with 25 points, and the entire Coyotes team must combine to limit his scoring opportunities.
Rozsival's Revenge: Facing off against the Rangers for the first time since being traded to Phoenix last season, defenseman Michal Rozsival will be amped up for tonight's tilt. Suffering an upper body injury in the season opener, Rozsival only recently returned to the ice and his presence could be key in handcuffing his former teammate Gaborik. With fellow D-man Rostislav Klesla out of tonight's contest with a leg injury, Rozsival will need to step up and pick up the slack against an offensive group he practiced against for the past six years.
Goaltending Emergency?: The Coyotes announced just hours before gametime that minor league goalie Justin Pogge, of the 'Yotes AHL affiliate Portland Pirates, has been recalled on an emergency basis. This sudden move suggests that either starting netminder Mike Smith or backup Jason LaBarbera will be unable to dress for tonight's game. If Smith is unable to take the ice due to personal issues or a practice injury, LaBarbera will need to continue his strong run of substitute performances. The longtime backup was impressive after Smith was chased in two recent losses, stopping the bleeding and posting shutout periods, so if he starts tonight the Coyotes may be in good hands. If the Twitter-rumors concerning an addition to the LaBarbera family are true, however, Smith must stand strong in net and take care to prevent any injuries which would force an unprepared Pogge to play.
Players to Watch: Coyotes center Martin Hanzal has quietly improved his game of late, scoring five points (2 G, 3 A) in his last five games. Long lauded as a key to the Coyotes hopes of contending in the postseason, Hanzal has always been exhorted by coaches, fans and teammates to bully his way to the crease and clean up the garbage. The advice seems to have sunk in and Hanzal is now a mainstay in Phoenix's offensive system. Averaging a point per game himself over the last six contests, Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto has been a consistent threat from the point. While focusing much of their attention on Brad Richards, Gaborik and the rest of the Rangers, the Coyotes defensive squad should be sure to keep an eye on the deceptive Del Zotto.