The Arizona Coyotes begun their season at home well, going 3-1-0 over their first four games at Gila River Arena. Now after dropping their last two home games, Gila River Arena isn't looking as friendly anymore.
This means Arizona can appreciate a timely back to back road trip against two of the weaker Western Conference opponents going around. First up is the Calgary Flames.
View from Arizona
After losing to the Winnipeg Jets through costly mistakes and a failure to generate offense, the Coyotes cleaned up their defensive act against the Boston Bruins but still lost as Arizona’s offense still left a lot to be desired.
The Coyotes have been bad on the road this season. 2-6-0 bad. But that is the same record the Flames have at home thus far. Furthermore, the Flames played in Minnesota last night, while the Coyotes have not played since Saturday. So the Coyotes really need to capitalize on a tired Calgary defense that has struggled all season.
Arizona have recently found it difficult to score goals, so the Coyotes should take it as a blessing that the match-up against the Flames has come now as Calgary are currently the easiest team to score on in the NHL.
View from Calgary
For more on the Calgary Flames, check out Matchsticks & Gasoline.
Calgary are currently just as bad as Arizona as they sit one place ahead of the Coyotes in the Western Conference with 11 points. The argument can be made that the Flames are performing even worse than the Coyotes as Calgary ranks dead last in the NHL for Point% with .344 while Arizona is in 29th with .357. Ultimately these statistics are useless for anything other than simply proving this match-up is truly a battle of the bottom - or as we would say in Australia, a “Wooden Spoon” match-up.
The Flames also rank last in the NHL in terms of goal-differential, with -20. Calgary have actually scored 1 more goal than Arizona this season thus far (though they have also played 2 more games), but have also given up 10 more goals than the Coyotes. This means the Flames are giving up goals at a higher rate than the Coyotes, which is no easy feat. To be specific their goals against average is 3.63.
As a result, Calgary have recently started a shakeup of their defense, and first on the hit list is none other than former Coyote Nicklas Grossman. Grossman recently had his contract terminated as a result of failing to report to the Flame’s AHL affiliate after clearing waivers.
- Can the Coyotes play decent hockey on the road? - If Arizona wants to make a proper shot out of this season, they need to start winning games on the road as currently they have been dreadful when visiting opponents. This game against Calgary is Arizona’s best chance to change the tone of their performances when playing away from home.
- Hello Shane Doan, are you there? - Shane Doan still looks out of place in the Arizona lineup. He appears slow, rarely getting to a loose puck first and is usually stripped of the puck by opposition defenders immediately unless he dumps the puck. If he is to stay in the lineup, he needs to be used sparingly and strategically - such as screening goaltenders on the power play, especially if Martin Hanzal continues to remain on the sidelines.
- Will Dylan Strome play? - Strome hasn't played since November 4th against the Anaheim Ducks. He hasn’t been great in his first six NHL games but the Coyotes haven’t either. Surely it’s time he gets another go? For a team that currently has some offensive woes, inserting Strome back into the lineup isn’t the worst idea - hell, he may rise to the challenge in Arizona’s time of need.
Players to Watch
Arizona - Michael Stone - Before getting injured against against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 27th, Stone recorded three assists in four games for the Coyotes. If Stone continues to put up numbers like this it’ll go a long way to solving the Coyotes’ offensive difficulties. Stone should be expected to put in a career year given he either wants to be traded at the deadline or signed to a decent contact at the end of the season.
Calgary - Deryk Engelland - Although the Flames have opted to part ways with Grossmann, they still have a bruising stay-at-home defenseman in Engelland. He averages 2.2 blocked shots per game. And deficiencies with +/- aside, the fact that he is leading his team at +8 is not exactly ideal.
With the demotion of Justin Peters and Christian Dvorak, Mike Smith is almost certainly set to return, while Martin Hanzal is very close.
Calgary is without Ladislav Smid for the rest of the season, while Kris Versteeg is not expected back until later this month. Lance Bouma is out indefinitely, while Linden Vey is considered questionable. Johnny Gaudreau is not expected to play tonight, which would be a major loss for the Flames.
Tonight’s game begins at 8 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, or listen on AZ Sports 98.7 FM.