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Minnesota Wild @ Phoenix Coyotes preview: Wild thing

A critical game awaits tonight as the Phoenix Coyotes take on the Minnesota Wild.

Christian Petersen

The Phoenix Coyotes will get a huge opportunity to cushion their hold on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference tonight when the Minnesota Wild come to town. Even in points, Phoenix has three games in hand, so a victory would help the Coyotes create space between themselves and the Wild.

Matchup at a Glance

Minnesota Wild Phoenix Coyotes
Points 51 (4th Central) 51 (5th Pacific)
Goals Per Game 2.27 (27th) 2.98 (6th)
Goals Against Per Game 2.44 (10th) 2.93 (23rd)
Power Play Percentage 19.6% (11th) 18.8% (14th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 79.4% (T-23rd) 78.4% (26th)

Minnesota Wild

After a strong start to the season, the Wild have been running into problems. Minnesota is 4-6-0 in their last ten, which doesn't quite underscore some of their issues: they lost six in a row to end out the year before rattling off home victories against the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres and then beating the Los Angeles Kings in the shootout before coming to the Valley.

Part of Minnesota's issues stem from a 27th ranked offense that has been made even more problematic by injuries. The team is also faced with the prospect of going without both starter Nicklas Backstrom and backup Josh Harding. In a hyper-competitive Western Conference, that's enough to push the team from playoff contender to on the outside looking in.

For the Minnesota perspective, be sure to check out Hockey Wilderness.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes needed a convincing win to get some confidence back after tough losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers. Thankfully, the Calgary Flames obliged by handing the Coyotes a 6-0 victory. Lauri Korpikoski, Mikkel Boedker, and Shane Doan led the way in a dominating win for Phoenix.

The other good news is that the Coyotes' defensive numbers are finally starting to trend in the right direction. The goals against average has dropped below three per game, and they are also taking fewer penalties. Keeping the puck out of the net when they are shorthanded, however, is still proving to be a major challenge.

Keys to the Game

Contributions From Everybody - Seven Coyotes had multi-point games in the blowout win over Calgary. That kind of scoring by committee is very hard to defend against.

Keep Minimizing Mistakes - Phoenix was not perfect against the Flames, but the mistakes they did make were manageable. The Coyotes will need to continue to avoid penalties, especially late in periods, and keep Minnesota's offense in front of them.

Win it for Smitty - Mike Smith has seen more shots on goal this season than any other goaltender in the NHL. He needs clean looks at the puck and tighter defensive play to help get him back on track.

Players to Watch

Ryan Suter

#20 / Defenseman / Minnesota Wild



Jan 21, 1985

G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Ryan Suter 5 24 29 1 22

American hero Ryan Suter remains one of the top defensemen in the NHL. Suter also blows away the rest of the league in average time on the ice, with 29:41 per game.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

#23 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes



Jul 17, 1991

G A P +/- PIM
2013 - Oliver Ekman-Larsson 4 18 22 6 28

Ekman-Larsson is expected to play after missing the past two games with an injury. The defense has improved even in his absence, but the penalty kill and power play will definitely benefit from his return.

Projected Starting Goaltenders

Darcy Kuemper

#35 / Goalie / Minnesota Wild



May 05, 1990

2013 - Darcy Kuemper 3 124 1 1 7 3.39 56 49 .875 0

The Wild's third string goaltender was called into action after injuries to Backstrom and Harding. He had 39 saves in the SO win against Los Angeles.

Mike Smith

#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes



Mar 22, 1982

2013 - Mike Smith 35 2032 15 10 98 2.89 1100 1002 .911 0

After skipping a start to get more work in with goaltending coach Sean Burke, Mike Smith will be back in net against Minnesota.

Injury Report

The Minnesota Wild are the walking wounded. Literally. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Marco Scandella, and Jared Spurgeon are all out with foot or ankle injuries. Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) and Josh Harding (illness), are also not expected to play.

For Phoenix, Zbynek Michalek (lower body) remains on IR. Ekman-Larsson, who missed two games after a Derek Mackenzie hit during the Columbus game, will return tonight.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 7 p.m. Arizona time. You can catch the action on FOX Sports Arizona and KMVP 860 AM.