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Arizona Coyotes visit Auston Matthews and Toronto Maple Leafs

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The native son plays his first game against his hometown team.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This game has been circled on the calendar since the 2016 NHL Draft. Tonight, the Arizona Coyotes will face for the first time the best player their presence in the Valley has ever produced, when they face Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

View from Arizona

Arizona’s 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night was a big lift after a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before. Arizona got an early power play goal, and two assists from new acquisition (and former Leaf) Peter Holland.

Of course, their win did not come without problems. Arizona really took its foot off the gas in the third period, at one point surrendering ten consecutive shots against. The Coyotes have struggled all year to play a full 60 minutes, and even regulation wins aren’t masking those problems anymore.

The Coyotes will have their hands full against a dynamic offense like Toronto’s. But if they can finally keep the pressure on, they’ll stand a legitimate chance of earning their first win of the season north of the border against a team not named Edmonton.

View from Toronto

For more on the Toronto Maple Leafs, check out Pension Plan Puppets

Auston Matthews is so good he’s even got some fans in Toronto thanking their lucky stars that the NHL ignored their complaints about the “purity” of the sport by locating teams in the Southern United States.

Hyperbole? Probably. But one thing that’s not over-exaggerated is Matthews’ talent; he leads his team with 13 goals and 22 points this season, and would probably be the runaway favorite for the Calder Trophy if not for the incredible start by Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine.

It’s hard not to look at this Mike Babcock led team and not think that the road to the Stanley Cup in the Eastern Conference will have to go through Toronto soon. More than half of Toronto’s seven best scorers this year were drafted in 2012 or later, and the remaining three are 30 years old or younger. The Leafs still likely need a blue-chip prospect on defense to really come into their own, but there may not be a more impressive set of young forwards in the NHL today than the one in Toronto.

Three Questions

  1. Can the Coyotes play 60 minutes? - Their let-up in the third period against the Red Wings didn’t cost them, but it very easily could have. Toronto has the kind of firepower to make any lull in the offensive attack a fatal mistake.
  2. Can the Coyotes get to Frederik Andersen? - As notorious as Dave Tippett is for always playing his #1 goaltender, Frederik Andersen has started 23 of Toronto’s 28 games. The Coyotes need to make him work hard tonight after he went the distance in a shootout loss against San Jose.
  3. Is Anthony Duclair breaking out? - Duclair had a much needed assist on Tuesday night, but he still only has five points this year. A big game would be ideal, but even a points streak would be a good confidence booster for a guy Arizona needs with Max Domi out.

Players to Watch

Arizona - Lawson Crouse - The decision not to release Crouse to Team Canada for the 2016 World Juniors might have seemed puzzling to outsiders, but the Coyotes like what they have in Crouse, who scored his second goal of the season on Tuesday versus Detroit. They are judicious with his minutes, but that’s due less to a lack of confidence in him and more to reserving him for specific situations.

Toronto - Auston Matthews - Yeah, like this was going to be anyone else. Matthews is coming off a multi-point game in his last outing, and is undoubtedly chomping at the bit to play the Coyotes.

Injury Report

Arizona is without Brad Richardson indefinitely, as he broke his leg in a freak collision in Vancouver two weeks ago. Max Domi is out for at least two months after undoing surgery to repair a broken hand. Connor Murphy is questionable for tonight’s game.

Toronto is without Joffrey Lupul for unspecific reasons, while Martin Marincin is out with back issues indefinitely. Zach Hyman is probable after deflecting a puck off of his knee against San Jose.

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game begins at 5:30 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on 92.3 KTAR FM.