The Phoenix Coyotes make a long-awaited return to the Madhouse on Madison tonight in their final match-up of the year against the Chicago Blackhawks. This game marks the Coyotes first trip to Chicago since eliminating the Hawks from last year's playoffs in game 6 of the first-round series; the Coyotes' first ever playoff series win in Phoenix. So far this year, in two games in Glendale, the Hawks have dominated the Desert Dogs, winning both games by a combined score of 12-6.
For Hawks fans, tonight's game was to be the bloodletting of Raffi Torres to make amends for his brutal hit on Marian Hossa. Unfortunately for the rowdy fans in Chitown, they will have to wait until next year to get their chance to boo Torres in person. Instead, they get to deal with a Coyotes team that is clinging by their final fingernail to a sliver of a chance to still make the postseason. A 5-0-0 finish will give the Coyotes a slightly better than 70% chance at securing a spot in the second season, but with future road games in Detroit and Anaheim, it's an uphill struggle to be sure.
Both teams are battling some injury issues, but the Coyotes are certainly more desperate to have star players like Shane Doan and Mike Smith play if available, as opposed to Chicago that comes in riding a 7-game winning streak, but wants to make sure that their key pieces like Patrick Sharp are healthy come the playoffs.
Five For Winning
1. Give a Damn. This shouldn't be a problem for the Coyotes because I've never seen them quit in a game under Dave Tippett, but they will hopefully be looking to exact some revenge for the 12-6 combined beatings that Chicago laid on them earlier this year.
2. Play Physical. Chicago shouldn't want to play too physical a game because they have little to gain from it, but with guys like Andrew Shaw, Daniel Carcillo, and Duncan Keith, it's not like they aren't going to be hitting a lot. The Coyotes need to match the physical play that the Hawks will bring.
3. Stick to the System. The last thing the Coyotes can afford against Chicago is to try and run-and-gun with the Hawks. This has been one of the biggest problems from the teams' first two match-ups and getting away from the defensive system that makes the Coyotes click will lead to similar results.
4. Win the Special Teams Battle. The best unit between the teams is Chicago's penalty kill which combines solid kill numbers with 5 shorthanded goals. Although discipline has been a key for the Coyotes, the Hawks powerplay, despite all the talent, is a miserable 21st in the league (still better than the 'Yotes).
5. Let Toews Score a Few. Ok, this is selfish because he's on my fantasy team and I need the playoff help...but if the Hawks are gonna score goals, let's have it be Captain Serious, eh?
Players to Watch
#14 / Right Wing / Phoenix Coyotes
Dec 23, 1983
|2012 - Chris Conner||7||1||1||2||3||0||0||0||0||11|
The 5'8" forward (yeah right) is providing quite the spark in the offensive zone and on transition much the way Rob Klinkhammer did earlier after his call up. Conner may never have a full time role on an NHL roster, but he's trying to prove that he deserves a shot at it through a full look in training camp next year.
#20 / Left Wing / Chicago Blackhawks
Oct 27, 1992
|2012 - Brandon Saad||42||10||15||25||16||8||0||1||2||87|
The rookie winger has been mighty impressive for the Hawks this year and is getting top-line minutes.
Likely Starting Goalies
#31 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Jun 10, 1986
|2012 - Chad Johnson||4||247||2||0||5||1.21||108||103||.954||1|
#33 / Goalie / Chicago Blackhawks
Dec 19, 1985
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Going completely off board with these picks because we've generally been so good at getting it right. Smitty still sounds a bit banged up and there is little reason to rush him back if he's not 100% considering how good Johnson's been. As for Chicago, Corey Crawford got the start yesterday and wasn't terribly impressive against the Predators, and Ray Emery is still a bit banged up...Hutton is next on the depth chart and at least the folks at Second City Hockey wouldn't mind seeing him get the start.
Mike Smith - lower body (day-to-day)
Shane Doan - receiving treatment, unknown (day-to-day)
Lauri Korpikoski - upper body (unknown)
Zbynek Michalek and Boyd Gordon - bruises (playing)
Ray Emery - lower body (unknown)
Patrick Sharp - upper body (unknown)