*Author's note: Due to tomorrow's early face-off, all stats are as off Saturday afternoon.
The Coyotes have rebounded from a shaky start to this road trip by winning their last two games in Detroit and Philadelphia. One big reason for the turnaround is an improvement on the penalty kill. After giving up four powerplay goals in 10 attempts against the Sharks and Islanders, the Coyotes have killed all six penalties they faced against the Red Wings and Flyers. The returns of Derek Morris and Rusty Klesla from injury have helped the Coyotes defensive zone play get back on track. The return of Michael Stone to the lineup after he was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season has helped as well.
The Coyotes do need to generate a little more offense however, as they have been held to two goals or fewer in three of the four games on this trip so far.
The Hurricanes are an unfamiliar foe, as the Coyotes haven't played them since a 4-3 victory in the PNC Arena on December 21, 2011.
The Hurricanes are currently in 1st place in the Metropolitan Division with a 2-1-2 record. They are coming off of a tough 2-1 shootout loss to the L.A. Kings. Jeff Skinner scored the lone Hurricanes goal in that game and he currently leads the team with six points. Team captain Eric Staal has recovered from off-season surgery after taking a devastating low hit at last season's World Championships. He currently has one goal and one assist and leads all Hurricane forwards in ice time, followed closely by his brother Jordan. The Hurricanes also have a new group of defensemen, as Andrej Sekera, Mike Komisarek and Ron Hainsey are all new to the team this season and youngsters Ryan Murphy and Brett Bellemore are getting their first extended action with the club.
In goal, the Hurricanes still have franchise stalwart Cam Ward but he is being pushed for playing time by Anton Khudobin. The former Bruins backup signed a one-year deal with the Canes in the offseason in hopes of getting a starting position; and so far on the season has put up better numbers than Ward. Either goalie could play Sunday.
Keys to Winning
Defense Defense Defense. The Coyotes have started to get back on track in the defensive zone and are playing much tighter in front of their goalies. With this being the last game of this road trip, the temptation could be there for a let down. It's imperative that they finish this trip focused and within the system.
The Special Teams Need to Stay Special. Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a huge powerplay goal just before the end of the second period in Philly and the penalty kill has been perfect the last two games. If the Coyotes can keep getting similar performances from their specialty units, they become a very tough team to play against.
Win in the Circle. The Coyotes dominated Detroit in the face-off circles, winning 68.5% of the draws. Against Philly, that fell to 48% as they won 32 of 66. Currently they Yotes are 7th in the league, winning 54.2% of their face-offs. The Hurricanes only win 43.5% so far this season, good enough for 28th place. Winning face-offs allows the Coyotes to control the flow of the game and so they need to take advantage of this Hurricane weakness.
#11 / Center / Phoenix Coyotes
Feb 20, 1987
|2013 - Martin Hanzal||1||4||5||-2||9|
Hanzal has points in three straight games, leads the team in points with five and is winning 55% of his face-offs. The big Czech is healthy and arguably playing the best hockey of his NHL career to start this season.
#14 / Center / Carolina Hurricanes
Jul 24, 1987
|2013 - Nathan Gerbe||3||1||4||0||4|
Nathan Gerbe has found a new home in Carolina. He was amnestied after struggling with injuries and consistency in Buffalo and leads the Hurricanes in goals so far on the season. He is also leading the team in shots.
Likely Starting Goaltenders
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2013 - Mike Smith||4||219||2||2||11||3.01||124||113||.911||0|
Smith should get the start after getting the night off against the Flyers. He did seem to suffer a minor injury after taking a hard slapshot off of his lower arm against Detroit. It doesn't appear to be serious, but the Coyotes could play it cautious and start Thomas Greiss after he played very well in Philly.
#31 / Goalie / Carolina Hurricanes
May 07, 1986
|2013 - Anton Khudobin||2||120||2||0||3||1.50||50||47||.940||0|
The Hurricanes have alternated between Ward and Khudobin in all five games so far this season. Cam got the start against L.A., so Anton should be up.
|20th (2.40)||Goals For||25th (2.00)|
|19th (2.80)||Goals Against||12th (2.40)|
|22nd (13.3)||Power Play %||20th (15.8)|
|23rd (75.0)||Penalty Kill %||7th (87.5)|
The Coyotes enter the game injury free, with there being the possibility that Mike Smith could be given another day off if they feel he needs it for his arm.
The Hurricanes will be without Joni Pitkanen (heel) who is done for the season and Tim Gleason (concussion). Tuomo Ruutu hasn't played all season, but skated on the 4th line in practice today and might return for tomorrow's game.
This is the final game of the 5 game road trip and it will start early, 10 a.m. Arizona time. The game will be televised on 3TV (KTVK) and broadcast over the radio on KMVP 860 AM.