Tonight will see a matchup of two teams trending in a positive direction. The Coyotes have won three in a row for the first time since the end of October and Boston owns the NHL's current longest winning streak at 11. Something has to give, and while the B's clinched a playoff berth with a victory last night, Phoenix has revenge on their minds for a 2-1 loss in Boston on the 13th of this month.
Matchup at a Glance
|Boston Bruins||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Points||101 (1st Atlantic)||79 (4th Pacific)|
|Goals per game||3.19 (2nd)||2.70 (16th)|
|Goals against per game||2.09 (2nd)||2.74 (17th)|
|Power play %||20.7 (4th)||20.6 (6th)|
|Penalty kill %||83.9 (9th)||79.4 (27th)|
The Bruins are the hottest team in hockey and currently hold the President's Trophy tiebreaker for the best regular season record. They have a six point cushion on Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference lead and a 16 point lead on Tampa Bay in the Atlantic division. Boston has been the class of the East and have their sights set on a return to the Stanley Cup Finals, hoping to return the Cup to New England.
Boston is led by the usual suspects of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara. Jarome Iginla has recovered from a slow start to his Bruins career to lead the team with 26 goals. One reason Boston has been so good this season has been the emergence of Reilly Smith. Smith was thought to be a throw in from the Tyler Seguin trade, but he has blossomed in the pressure of Beantown, netting 19 goals and 47 points in 69 points on this season after totaling only three goals and nine points in 50 games for Dallas.
Tuukka Rask has been stellar as well, ranking third in the league in goals against average, save percentage and wins. He was stellar in beating the Yotes on the 13, making 21 saves in a 2-1 victory. He should be in the pipes again tonight after Chad Johnson backstopped the Bruins to their 11th straight win Friday against the Avalanche.
The Coyotes seem to be rounding into shape at the best time of the season. They have won three in a row and five of their last six to put some space between themselves and Dallas for the final playoff spot. Just because the Coyotes are finding ways to win doesn't mean everything is wine and roses.
The inconsistency that has prevented them from stringing together wins this season has creeped into individual games now, as the Coyotes will play a good period followed immediately by an awful one. For example, during the current three game winning streak, the Coyotes have outscored opponents 6-1 in the first period, but have been outscored 5-3 in the final 40 minutes, including 4-0 in the second period.
In the past, getting the lead was a oneway ticket to victory for Phoenix, but this current team has found ways to make leads into roller coasters unrivaled by anything at an amusement park. If they want to end Boston's streak, they will need to play all 60 minutes, not just the opening 20.
Keys to Victory
Score first. Boston got the lead on Phoenix just over five minutes into their last meeting. The Bruins are deadly getting the lead, playing to a 36-5-1 record when scoring first. They are merely mortal when trailing, going 12-12-4 when allowing the first tally. It would behoove Phoenix to not tempt fate again this week (21-1-0).
Power play performance. It's not about scoring on the power play, but being efficient with it. The Bruins can be deadly shorthanded, as evidenced by Brad Marchand and his league leading five shorties. Phoenix needs to be better than they were in Boston when they were 0 for 5 and struggled to produce any kind of pressure.
Gone in 60 minutes. To beat Boston will take a full 60 minute effort. The Bruins are going to come out strong and Phoenix needs to take advantage of the fact that the B's played last night. Give them no quarter for you shall recieve none.
Likely Starting Goaltender
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2013 - Mike Smith||60||3500||27||20||10||154||2.64||1817||1663||.915||3
Coach Tippett has said that he plans to ride Smith the rest of the way, and given his performance since February 1st, who can blame him. Hopefully Smith can be better than he was in the TD Garden when he allowed two goals on only 20 shots.
Player to Watch
Antoine Vermette has been the Coyotes most consistent forward in a year where the overall team consistency has been lacking. He's been one of the league's best face-off men, he gets time on both the power play and penalty kill and he leads the team in goals. Not bad for a guy expected to be the third most important center coming into the season. He struggled against the Bruins in Boston but should have a bounce back game tonight.
The Coyotes will once again take to the ice without the services of David Schlemko. Other than that, they appear to be at full strength for the first time since the trade deadline acquisition of Martin Erat,
Boston is in a bit of hairier situation. They continue to play without Adam Mcquaid (quadricep) and Dennis Seidenberg (knee, out for season). They will also likely play without Johnny Boychuk, who didn't play in Colorado due to a sore foot and is expected to miss tonight's game. Making their current 11 game win streak all the more impressive.
The game starts at 6 PM at Jobing.com Arena. If you can't find tickets, the game will be televised on FSAZ+ and will be heard over the air on AZ Sports 98.7 FM.