The Phoenix Coyotes are once again without their comfortable playoff cushion. The Minnesota Wild are now three points ahead of the Coyotes after Phoenix played a poor game down the stretch in their Saturday night clash, and the Dallas Stars rode consecutive victories to draw within a point of the Coyotes with a game in hand. The Coyotes will need to prevent their playoff hopes from stalling with a game against the Winnipeg Jets tonight.
Though not yet mathematically impossible, the Jets have virtually eliminated themselves from playoff contention with a paltry 3-5-2 record in their previous 10 games, the most recent of which was a 5-4 OT loss to the Anaheim Ducks in which the Jets carried a 4-1 lead into the 3rd period. The Coyotes aren't the only team playing tonight with the ability to squander leads late in the game.
Despite an initial rebirth of relevancy brought on by Paul Maurice assuming head coaching duties, the Jets' underlying issues have proved tough to overcome and as a result, Winnipeg will continue to be without playoff hockey dating all the way back to the Coyotes' penultimate season in the 'Peg.
With borderline bust Ondrej Pavelec playing last night in Anaheim, the Coyotes will either face former Coyote Al Montoya or Michael Hutchinson, a 3rd round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft who signed a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason. If Hutchinson plays, it would be his first career NHL start.
Despite being out of playoff contention, the Jetss remain a dangerous team. They have two 60+ point players in Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, and along with Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, all have 20+ goals on the season. They can take it to teams that aren't prepared, and if the Coyotes' 5-1 drubbing at their hands earlier in the year proves anything, it's that the Jets can still pack a tremendous punch.
Amazing how quickly the outlook of this team can turn from sunshine and rainbows to thunderbolts and rain clouds. The team had been riding high off of victories in Pittsburgh and New Jersey, and for the first time in a long time had created some separation between themselves and the Dallas Stars.
In the wake of a 3-1 loss to Minnesota that saw the Desert Dogs go nearly half a game without registering a shot on goal, the mood has changed. In the eyes of many, Mike Ribeiro continues to do little to show the coaching staff that he is more of an asset than a liability in the lineup (though it is worth noting that his Corsi For %, while bad, was significantly better than his percentage in the game against New York that got him benched). The absence of David Moss, a relatively unheralded forward who is consistently a positive possession player, undoubtedly hurt too.
As usual, the Coyotes margin for error is razor-thin: Phoenix will head to Los Angeles immediately after tonight's tilt that will either cause Thomas Greiss to make back-to-back starts for the first time this season or signal the debut of Mark Visentin. In either scenario, it is absolutely vital that Phoenix preserve its three-point cushion over Dallas with a victory tonight.
Keys to the Game
- Shots, shots, shots - Even if the Coyotes hadn't had such a lackluster offense in Saturday's game, it would still be imperative that they get rubber on net. The Coyotes need to keep Winnipeg on the defensive and make either Hutchinson or Al Montoya work for all 60 minutes.
- Someone have a statement game - Plenty of Coyotes could use a bounce back game. Ribeiro was a non-factor offensively and both Shane Doan and Keith Yandle took 10-minute misconducts for arguing with officials Saturday night. Somebody needs to show up with a signature performance tonight.
- Balance the minutes - Phoenix was very successful in the Tampa/Florida back-to-back in rolling four lines and ensuring everybody was fresher for the second game. Given that tomorrow's opponent is even tougher, the Coyotes need to avoid overtaxing themselves by doing things like playing with a lead, staying out of the penalty box, and avoiding long-stretches of time hemmed in their own zone.
Player to Watch
Mikkel Boedker has 12 goals and 16 assists on the road, but just 7 goals and 12 assists at Jobing.com Arena. The Coyotes would love for him to cross the 20 goal plateau on home ice.
Projected Starting Goaltender
Greiss played well in the loss to Minnesota, stopping 27 of 29 shots. Winnipeg can shoot the puck, so he will need to be good again.
Plenty of injuries to be had on the Winnipeg roster. Grant Clitsome (undisclosed) is on IR for the season, as is Mark Scheifele (knee). James Wright (ankle), Chris Thorburn (ankle) and Zach Bogosian (upper body) are all out indefinitely, and Keaton Ellerby (lower body) is considered questionable.
For the Coyotes, Mike Smith (knee) is still targeting a mid-April return date, while David Schlemko (lower body) remains out indefinitely. David Moss (lower body) is considered questionable for Tuesday's game.