To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Arizona Coyotes will get that chance against the team that won it all last year, as they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to what will undoubtedly be a very lively Gila River Arena tonight.
Matchup at a Glance
|Chicago Blackhawks||Arizona Coyotes|
|Points||44 (4th Central)||37 (2nd Pacific)|
|Goals For||2.59 (16th)||2.71 (T-8th)|
|Goals Against||2.41 (T-10th)||3.11 (28th)|
|Power Play||21.4% (T-5th)||15.7% (28th)|
|Penalty Kill||82.0% (T-8th)||80.3% (T-16th)|
|5v5 Corsi For||51.9% (T-9th)||47.1% (27th)|
|PDO||98.9 (23rd)||101.2 (7th)|
View from Chicago
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In what has seemingly become a tradition in Chicago after winning the Cup, the Blackhawks parted ways with many of their key role players in order to fit under the salary cap. Brandon Saad was traded to Columbus in lieu of receiving a much deserved payday, while Patrick Sharp was shipped off to Dallas.
Chicago has largely offset the offensive losses with inexpensive and highly productive replacements. Most notably, Artemi Panarin is off to a tremendous start in his first NHL season, with 10 goals and 21 assists. While Panarin's 263 games of KHL experience might hurt his stock among Calder Trophy voters, he has been a major part of Chicago's offense this year.
Yet Chicago is still stuck in the middle of the Central Division. Part of the reason is the team's 5.9% shooting at even-strength, which is third worst in the league. Chicago has the misfortune of playing in the best division in the NHL, but the fact that Arizona is outscoring the Blackhawks reflects how tought it is to retain top talent and stay below the salary cap.
View from Arizona
Goaltenders may not care for it much, but the last overtime Arizona played versus Colorado was one of the more entertaining ones you will ever see. Even better, the Coyotes came up on top thanks to a breakaway goal from Blackhawk killer Mikkel Boedker.
Arizona's four game points streak comes at the best possible time for the Coyotes as they get set to play Pacific Division opponents at the end of the week. Apart from Los Angeles, no team in the Pacific has been able to create separation in the playoff race. Therefore banking points in non-division games is going to be a crucial firewall against losses in intra-division games.
Keys to the Game
- Support the Center Position - Arizona is going to be severely undersized at center. The wings are going to need to give the centers outlet passes on offense and support on defense.
- Create Shooting Lanes - The Coyotes need to give their starter clear looks at opposing shooters, while their forwards have to get pucks past Chicago defenders to the net.
- Minimal Penalties - Los Angeles made Arizona pay for their lack of discipline. Chicago is more than capable of doing so as well. Stay out of the box!
Players to Watch
The key piece returning in the Saad trade, Artem Anisimov is second on the team in goals with 12. He only has one goal in his last 11 games though.
Arizona has scored five goals in its last two games. Mikkel Boedker has tallied a point on all five of them. He is marching towards a big payday this summer.
The only injury to note for Chicago is Marcus Kruger, who underwent wrist surgery and is not expected to return before the season ends.
Joe Vitale and Mike Smith remain on injured reserve, while Steve Downie, Boyd Gordon, and Martin Hanzal are all questionable for tonight's game. In response, Arizona has recalled Laurent Dauphin and Craig Cunningham from the AHL.
Tonight's game will begin at 7 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on 92.3 KTAR FM.