Phoenix has done a very good job of staying in the hunt for a playoff spot; their next test will be tonight as they take on the Calgary Flames. Most Coyotes fans will remember (or try to forget) the last time Phoenix played up in the Saddledome: they lost 5-4 in brutal fashion, giving up two goals late in the third period. The Desert Dogs can't afford to meet a similar fate tonight.
Calgary is now sitting comfortably where most expected them to be: near the bottom of the NHL standings. At 14-21-4, it will be yet another long offseason for the faithful in Alberta, although Calgary has actually managed to put up a respectable 10-8-2 record at home. The Flames are also without their legendary captain Jarome Iginla, who finally decided enough is enough and got a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Phoenix has precious little room for error: they are two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for 8th without any games in hand, and Detroit holds the ROW tiebreaker. Depending on the results of tonight's action Phoenix could end the evening tied for 8th with 44 points. They will need a strong effort to make that happen.
Five For Winning
1. String Goals Together. As much as it helps when the Coyotes score first, what's more important is keeping some distance between themselves and their opponents. If they do get a goal, they also need to get the next one to build a lead and keep their momentum.
2. No Letdowns. After playing a very strong 2nd period against Edmonton, the Coyotes nearly gave it away in the 3rd. That absolutely can't happen, especially since Calgary was able to do just that to this team a couple of months ago.
3. Mike Smith. There's not much else that needs to be said: Smitty is playing tremendous hockey, giving his team a chance to win in every game that he's played since returning from injury. He will likely need to be sharp again tonight.
4. Avoid the Stupidity Bug. When things go wrong for the Coyotes, they tend to be self-inflicted wounds. Martin Hanzal's boarding penalty against Taylor Hall in the 3rd period was a perfect example. They don't have to play penalty-free hockey, they just need to be sure the penalties they do take and the mistakes they do make aren't at critical points in the game.
5. Win. Calgary has nothing to play for except pride, which makes them dangerous. Phoenix is supposed to be the better team. Prove it with two points.
Players to Watch
#4 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Dec 23, 1982
|2012 - Zbynek Michalek||0||2||2||7||12|
Michalek had over 20 minutes of ice-time in his return Wednesday night. His shot-blocking abilities are vital to the Coyotes defense and penalty-kill unit. There are some dangerous players on the Calgary Flames that Michalek will need to stop.
#20 / Left Wing / Calgary Flames
Dec 28, 1982
|2012 - Curtis Glencross||15||9||24||-8||16|
Even though Iginla is no longer a Flame, there are still some potent offensive weapons on this roster. Curtis Glencross is one of them. He also happened to be the one who scored the GWG against Phoenix in that brutal 5-4 loss.
Projected Starting Goaltenders
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2012 - Mike Smith||29||1643||13||11||71||2.59||791||720||.910||5|
With the schedule arranged the way it is it's conceivable that Mike Smith is between the pipes for every game from here on out. Good thing too: in his last three games he's seen 95 shots and stopped 93 of them.
#35 / Goalie / Calgary Flames
Feb 07, 1980
|2012 - Joey MacDonald||15||786||5||6||40||3.05||382||342||.895||0|
The long-term injury to Miikka Kiprusoff meant that Calgary had to get goaltending by committee. Even though the Kipper is back with the team he isn't expected to play tonight, which means Joey MacDonald will get the nod.
For the Coyotes, Lauri Korpikoski remains questionable with an upper-body injury. He is the only injury of note for the Desert Dogs.
The Flames have a myriad of players out. Center Paul Byron is on long-term injured reserve with a fractured hand, and Derek Smith (Lower Body), Brian McGrattan (Shoulder), Matt Stajan (Upper Body), and Steve Begin (Ear) are all questionable for tonight's game. Jiri Hudler was out for the previous two games Calgary played but is expected to return to action tonight.
You can catch tonight's game at 6 PM Arizona time on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or XTRA 910 AM.