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Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets square off for the second time this season

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After a much needed break, the Arizona Coyotes are back to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The last time the Arizona Coyotes sat out for four days or more, they had just come off a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks and then put together a convincing 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

Today, the Coyotes are back from a four day break after a 5-4 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Will they be able to follow the same script against the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Matchup at a Glance

Columbus Blue Jackets Arizona Coyotes
Points 25 (8th Metropolitan) 30 (3rd Pacific)
Goals For 2.30 (26th) 2.70 (11th)
Goals Against 3.00 (T-25th) 3.17 (29th)
Power Play 18.6% (15th) 14.7% (29th)
Penalty Kill 82.1% (11th) 81.3% (T-14th)
5v5 Corsi For 47.9% (24th) 46.7% (T-27th)
PDO 98.4 (26th) 101.1 (9th)

View from Columbus

Make sure to check out The Cannon for everything about the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The good news for Columbus is that Sergei Bobrovsky gave up two goals or fewer in nine of his last ten appearances. The bad news is that Bobrovsky has been injured since December 8th in Los Angeles and won't be expected back until the end of the month.

In his absence, Columbus' goaltending has been nothing short of atrocious. Curtis McElhinney is 0-5-2 with a .889 save percentage and a 3.11 GAA. His counterpart - 21 year old Finnish product Joonas Korpisalo - is 0-2-0 with a .893 save percentage and a 3.67 GAA.

That leaves the Jackets currently mired in last place in the NHL despite some solid individual performances up front. Scott Hartnell leads the team with 23 points while he, Boone Jenner, and Brandon Saad have all cracked the double-digit goal mark. There are workable pieces there on offense, but the defense has been underwhelming and the goaltending erratic.

Sound familiar?

View from Arizona

The biggest news for the Coyotes this week has been Mike Smith's successful core muscle surgery, which will keep him off the ice for several months. Smith has not been good this year; he has a 10-9-1 record despite a .901 save percentage and a 3.06 GAA. But neither has his counterpart Anders Lindback, who is 4-5-1 with a .900 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA. For now, it'll be up to Lindback and Louis Domingue to man the pipes for the Coyotes.

While General Manager Don Maloney is exploring the possibility of acquiring another netminder should Lindback and Domingue not be up to the task, his major concern should be the defense. The stellar play of Mikkel Boedker, Max Domi, and Anthony Duclair has done much to paper over a team that is conceding only .09 fewer goals per game this year than it did last year.

There are a myriad of reasons for this. Young players in top four roles. An inability to keep the puck out of the defensive zone. Mental mistakes at highly inopportune moments. Whatever the reason or reasons, this defensive group is not getting it done. If they can't clean up the defensive zone, then Don Maloney needs to find players who can.

Keys to the Game

  • Second and Third Chances - One way the offense could make the defense's job easier is if they can play more than one-and-done hockey. The Coyotes need to fight for rebounds, and they need to pick up missed shots and try again without having to regroup in the neutral zone every time.
  • Veteran Scoring - The most goals scored by any Coyote over age 26 is the six scored by Shane Doan. The youngsters can't do all of the scoring by themselves.
  • Defensive Not-Scoring - The December 11th victory over Minnesota was the last time since November 27th that the Coyotes gave up fewer than three goals in a game. It is absolutely unacceptable to concede goals at such a high rate.

Players to Watch

Ryan Johansen has been the center of trade rumors seemingly since time immemorial. He has sixteen assists this season, including three in his last five games. Perhaps this is the year he moves.

Mikkel Boedker celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday. He has two goals and an assist in his last five games, and needs only three goals and three assists in his next 15 games to match his production totals from last year.

Injury Report

In addition to Sergei Bobrovsky, the Jackets have Markus Hannikainen and Cody Goloubef on injured reserve. For tonight's game, both Jared Boll and Rene Bourque are listed as questionable.

The Coyotes will miss Smith for the next few months, but Martin Hanzal and Joe Vitale are also on injured reserve.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 7 PM Arizona time. For those of you not lining up to see Star Wars Episode VII that early, you can catch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.