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Arizona Coyotes face desperate Pittsburgh Penguins

The Arizona Coyotes face a team trying to turn their fortunes around before the playoffs.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes have been out of the playoff hunt for a while now, which gives them the opportunity to play spoiler to playoff hopeful teams across the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins are one such team, and tonight the two teams will clash at Gila River Arena for the only time this year.

Matchup at a Glance

Pittsburgh Penguins Arizona Coyotes
Points 88 (3rd Metropolitan) 50 (7th Pacific)
Goals For 2.73 (16th) 2.00 (29th)
Goals Against 2.41 (8th) 3.25 (28th)
Power Play 19.7% (8th) 20.5% (7th)
Penalty Kill 85.4% (4th) 78.5% (26th)
5v5 SAT 52.6% (7th) 49.0% (22nd)
SpSV% 100.5 (10th) 96.6 (30th)

View from Pittsburgh

What once looked like a rock-solid grasp on the Metropolitan Division title has turned into an all-out dogfight for home-ice advantage in the first round. Pittsburgh is now third in the division, tied with the Washington Capitals, but in possession of the first two tiebreakers (games in hand and Regulation/Overtime wins.) Losers of four straight, the Penguins do not look like the dominant team that usually contends for the Eastern Conference crown.

While injuries have played a big part in the team's struggles, the Penguins have been beset by discipline issues during their losing streak too; Pittsburgh has taken nineteen minor penalties, four ten minute misconducts, and one game misconduct during the streak. Steve Downie now leads the NHL in penalty minutes with 223. It's gotten so bad the team's assistant general manager admits that the Penguins "whine too much" to referees.

Buoying the Pens during this rough patch has been Marc-Andre Fleury. With a .922 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA, the oft-maligned netminder is doing his part to help Pittsburgh keep pace with the Caps and the New York Islanders.

View from Arizona

One of Arizona's feel good stories this season is getting a sequel.

Justin Hodgman, the journeyman forward who toiled away in minor hockey leagues and Russia - only to score a goal in his first career NHL game - is back in the NHL on an emergency basis after Martin Erat was injured against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night.

Arizona's well-documented offensive woes have not improved much since the Trade Deadline. They scored two goals against Colorado, which is their exact average. With Pittsburgh's defense and penalty kill, scoring will once again be a major challenge.

Keys to the Game

  • Traffic in Front - Most goals the Coyotes are going to score the rest of the way are going to come down low when there are a lot of players around the net. What size the Coyotes do have needs to get in front of Fleury.
  • Special Teams - Arizona's power play is going to be tested against a good Pittsburgh penalty kill, while Pittsburgh's power play is equally effective. The Coyotes need to finish this game at least even in special teams points.
  • Get Under Their Skin - For whatever reason, Pittsburgh seems pretty susceptible to taking terrible penalties at terrible times. If Steve Downie and Kris Letang get frustrated, they may take themselves of the game. The Coyotes can help them along.

Who's Hot

Sidney Crosby has two goals and four assists in his last six games. He leads the Pens in points with 72.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson has two goals and an assist in his last five games. He leads the team in scoring so far, and it's highly unlikely anybody else on the Coyotes catches him.

Injury Report

Coyotes forwards Mikkel Boedker & Martin Hanzal are both done for the season. Martin Erat (upper body) is day to day and will likely be a game-time decision.

Olli Maatta is done for the year after undergoing shoulder surgery, while Pascal Dupuis remains on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Evgeni Malkin will miss a week or two with a leg injury, and Hornqvist (undisclosed) is not expected to play tonight. Steve Downie may be a game-time decision due to a possible injury which occurred against the Stars on Thursday night.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 6 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on ESPN 620 AM.