Tonight's matchup against the Detroit Red Wings doesn't carry the same amount of vitriol that it did in 2011 or 2010. That's partially because the Wings didn't stick around in the playoffs long enough to get beat by the Coyotes in 2011-12, and partially because the Los Angeles Kings have charged up the standings of Coyotes fans' most hated team. Regardless, this will be a solid matchup between two teams with a lot to prove.
Detroit is trying to prove that they're still a perennial playoff team, despite losing Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement and losing out on his presumptive replacement, Ryan Suter, to the Minnesota Wild. They certainly looked like their old selves recently, with two consecutive road wins over the Anaheim Ducks. Their 16-11-5 record is good enough for 5th in the jam-packed West, and they are seven points ahead of the Desert Dogs in the standings.
Phoenix has a couple of reasons to be optimistic going into this game. Detroit played a hard fought game against Anaheim last night, and have played five of their past six away from Joe Louis Arena. The Coyotes also had a four game break in their schedule, time that Dave Tippett used to practice the team first style that has given the Coyotes tremendous success for four years now. If there was a game for the Coyotes to play a solid 60 and get back on track, this one seems like the game.
Five For Winning
1. Score First - For the past couple of games Coyotes fans were simply happy when they scored, but the reality is they play so much better when they have a lead. If they can jump on the Red Wings early, they might be able to get back in the win column.
2. Help the Netminder Out - Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera have not played terrible hockey in the past month or so, they just aren't getting much support. Keep the crease clear, keep shooting lanes open, and keep the play at the other end of the ice to give whoever starts in net an easier time.
3. Shut Up and Play - As much as the fans like the drama and the conflict that emerged from the controversial plays between the Kings and Canucks, the Coyotes need rhythm a lot more. Try and avoid the penalty box and keep the extracirriculars to a minimum and just play hockey.
4. Keep the Power Play Going - Radim Vrbata's return already appears to be showing dividends, as the Coyotes lodged a power play goal Thursday night. The passing and shot selection has looked much better; if the Desert Dogs can make good choices on the power play and hold the offensive zone, they will really tire out the Detroit defenders and keep some of their top scorers off the ice.
5. Avoid Mistakes - It doesn't take much for someone like Pavel Datsuyk to make a brilliant play or two. The Coyotes can't allow that to happen in this one. Don't take unnecessary chances, make the simple play, and stick to your assignments.
Players to Watch
#55 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 12, 1981
|2012 - Niklas Kronwall||5||17||22||-5||36|
With the retirement of Lidstrom, Kronwall has become the go-to guy on defense, and has been producing solid numbers for Detroit. Phoenix would like nothing more than to make his life difficult tonight.
#17 / Right Wing / Phoenix Coyotes
Jun 13, 1981
|2012 - Radim Vrbata||4||9||13||-1||8|
If there's one guy the Coyotes would like to get going again, it's Radim Vrbata. Despite missing nearly half the season thus far with foot injuries, Vrbata is still tied for 6th on the team in points. This would be a good time for him to add a couple more tallies in the goal column.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
#50 / Goalie / Detroit Red Wings
Oct 24, 1984
|2012 - Jonas Gustavsson||5||253||1||2||12||2.85||98||86||.878||0|
Mike Babcock stated after last night's game against Anaheim, 'Monster' would be starting tonight against Phoenix. Gustavsson hasn't seen much time for the Detroit this season. This could potentially be good news for the Coyotes, as Gustavsson has looked anything but solid in his appearances with the team.
#1 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Jan 18, 1980
|2012 - Jason LaBarbera||8||300||1||4||11||2.20||147||136||.925||0|
While it doesn't sound like Mike Smith will be out for long, it does sound like he won't be in net for the Coyotes tonight. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since Jason LaBarbera has played extremely well in his last few appearances, and his individual stats are much better than his win/loss record reflects.
Detroit has had their fair share of injuries this year. Todd Bertuzzi is likely out for the rest of the season with back issues, defenseman Kyle Quincey is expected to undergo surgery for a fractured cheekbone sustained March 15th against the Oilers, center Darren Helm is not with the team on this trip because of back problems, and Mikael Samuelsson is out indefinitely with finger issues. Carlo Colaiacovo has been on IR since January with a shoulder injury, and though he was activated last night in Anaheim he was kept out of the lineup. It's conceivable that he could play tonight.
Phoenix still has injuries to contend with too. David Moss and Zbynek Michalek remain questionable for tonight's game with lower body injuries, and the aforementioned Mike Smith is day-to-day with what is in all likelihood concussion-like symptoms, though Dave Tippett doesn't believe this is likely to be a long-term injury.
Tonight's game is going to be sold-out, so if you don't have a ticket, you can catch the game at 7PM on Fox Sports Arizona or XTRA 910 AM.