It wasn't supposed to be this way.
In October, the Phoenix Coyotes were riding high on the emotion of finally securing new ownership. They had made a splash in free agency by signing Mike Ribeiro to be their playmaker extraordinaire. The defense was loaded with talent and Mike Smith was looking to prove the lockout shortened season was a fluke.
My how things have changed since then.
Due in large part to a dreadful April in which the Coyotes did not win a single game, Phoenix will end their season after tonight's game against the Dallas Stars, who secured their first playoff berth since 2008 on Friday night, at Phoenix's expense.
Matchup at a Glance
|Dallas Stars||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Points||91 (5th Central)||87 (4th Pacific)|
|Goals Per Game||2.84 (9th)||2.57 (19th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.73 (T-16th)||2.75 (20th)|
|Power Play Percentage||15.6% (24th)||20.2% (4th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||81.0% (T-21st)||79.3% (T-26th)|
It's been a good weekend to be a Stars fan. Dallas secured their postseason berth thanks to the impressive play of players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and a healthy Kari Lehtonen. Since March 22nd, Dallas went 8-4-0, while Phoenix went 2-4-4 in that same stretch.
From an advanced stats perspective, Dallas is a better team than their record indicates. Their Fenwick For % (unblocked shot attempts) is 51.3%, good enough for 9th in the NHL ahead of playoff teams like Anaheim, Minnesota, and Colorado. They could be a tough out once the postseason starts
Barring an exceptional game from Radim Vrbata, it appears that Keith Yandle will finish the season as the team's leader in points with 53. In general, having a defenseman lead the team in points is not a good endorsement of the potency of the offense.
If there is an upside to missing the playoffs, it is that several young players got a chance to audition for roster spots in the future. Last night against San Jose young players like Connor Murphy, Brandon Gormley, and Mark Visentin all drew in to the lineup. And with offensive prospect Tyler Gaudet getting recalled earlier this weekend, it is possible that the youth movement will continue tonight.
Keys to the Game
- Keep Tinkering - Last night the pairing of Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro connected for a goal, as did Kyle Chipchura and Shane Doan. With no postseason implications, the Coyotes ought to continue trying to find what works.
- Offensive Pressure - Last night the Coyotes did a pretty good job generating consistent offensive zone time. It is important for them to hold the puck, win battles, and generate second and third opportunities on a single possession.
- Send the Fans Home Happy - The Coyotes haven't won since the end of March. Fans are understandably disappointed with the way the season has ended. Reward the fans who are there with a victory.
Player to Watch
Although Vrbata had another 20+ goal and 50+ point season, the inconsistency he has shown this year is disappointing. Seeing as he hasn't scored since March 20th against Florida, the Coyotes will either need to find more offensive help to supplement him or consider letting him walk if his contract price is too high.
With no reason to bring back Mike Smith, Thomas Greiss will likely play the season finale. With respectable numbers on the year and several teams looking for an upgrade in goal, Greiss will likely have his pick of teams to consider in the offseason.
The most obvious injury for Dallas is Rich Peverley (heart), who collapsed mid-game with a cardiac event. He will not be back this season. Other questionable players for tonight include Brenden Dillon (lower body), Ray Whitney (lower body), and Aaron Rome (lower body). Given how the game has no postseason implications, it would not be surprising to see none of these players get the night off.
The Coyotes have shut down Mike Smith (leg) for the year, as well as David Schlemko (lower body). Martin Hanzal (lower body) is unlikely to play tonight as well.
Game time is 6 PM Arizona time. If you aren't going to make it out to the arena, you can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen to the game on KMVP 860 AM.