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Arizona Coyotes return to Chicago to avenge their last loss

The Arizona Coyotes were throttled the last time they came to the Windy City. They play again tonight for a national audience with hopes of turning in a stronger performance.

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

To say the Arizona Coyotes limped into the All-Star Break would be a rather charitable way of putting it. Their last game before the break was a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that even captain Shane Doan felt they never had a chance in. But in front of a national audience, the Coyotes will have the opportunity to put together a better performance at the United Center tonight.

Matchup at a Glance

Arizona Coyotes Chicago Blackhawks
Points 45 (6th Pacific) 68 (3rd Central)
Goals For 2.24 (26th) 2.92 (8th)
Goals Against 3.23 (28th) 2.26 (2nd)
Power Play 22.2% (6th) 18.7% (14th)
Penalty Kill 77.6% (27th) 88.0% (1st)
5v5 Corsi For 48.7% (23rd) 53.9% (T-3rd)
PDO 97.7 (29th) 100.6 (12th)

View from Arizona

Arizona's last contest versus the Detroit Red Wings, though frustrating, was a good indicator that the Coyotes are capable of hanging around with good teams. Mike Smith has dramatically improved in the past couple of weeks, as has the team's penalty kill; Detroit's top ranked power play only went 1 for 6 in Arizona on Saturday.

But if it's not one thing it's another, and this time, it's the offense. The Coyotes mustered a grand total of two goals in their two games at home last week. With that sort of production, Arizona was actually quite lucky to get even a single point out of their short homestand. Tobias Rider, Sam Gagner, Lucas Lessio, and Brendan Shinnimin are all currently auditioning for next season. They need to show the coaching staff that they are a part of the solution in Arizona.

View from Chicago

If Chicago played in the Pacific Division, they would sit comfortably in second place ahead of the San Jose Sharks. Instead, they are in a knock-down drag-out fight for home ice in the Central Division. With 68 points, they sit four points behind second place St. Louis, and eight points behind first place Nashville. They are also only four points ahead of the surprising Winnipeg Jets, though they do have two games in hand on the team from Manitoba.

The skill players of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are, as per usual, lighting it up this season. Kane will in all likelihood earn consideration for the Hart Trophy with his play this year. Buoying Chicago on the back end has been the three headed monster of Corey Crawford, Antti Raanta, and Scott Darling. All of Chicago's goaltenders have save percentages of .921 or better this year.

Still, tonight might be the best chance Arizona has of stealing a couple of points from the Hawks. Chicago played a bruising midday contest on Sunday against the Blues, which means this is one of the rare occasions where the visitor has had more time to rest than the home team. Whether Arizona can capitalize on their improved play remains an open question though.

Keys to the Game

  • Get Physical Early - The more (legal) punishment Arizona can put on Chicago early, the more likely they can grind the Blackhawks down late in the game. They have to be smart about not taking penalties in the process though.
  • Clog the Neutral Zone - Some of Chicago's best scoring plays yesterday were due to easy zone entries. The Coyotes cannot afford to let players like Patrick Sharp or Brandon Saad get through the neutral zone uncontested.
  • Play With the Pressure Off - Chicago needs points to receive home-ice in a first round playoff series. Arizona doesn't. If the Coyotes can play loose and frustrate the Hawks, they may steal a couple of points in this game.

Who's Hot

In a sign that maybe we should do more player features here, David Moss has two points in his last two games. That kind of secondary scoring is what Arizona's offense has lacked all year.

Marian Hossa scored two goals yesterday in Chicago. His shooting percentage is currently half of his career average, so if he gets going, it only makes the vaunted Chicago offense that much better.

Injury Report

Mikkel Boedker (spleen) is beginning to skate again, but is still quite a ways from returning. Martin Hanzal is not expected back this week, and Joe Vitale remains on injured reserve.

The Blackhawks will be without depth players Kris Versteeg (hand) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (leg), but are otherwise healthy.

Puck Drop

Tonight's action begins at 6:30 PM Arizona time. The game will be broadcast on NBC Sports (Arizona's only appearance on the network this season), and 98.7 FM.