2016 has not been kind to the Arizona Coyotes. But on the plus side, it’s almost over.
However, to get to the end, they will need to get through the Calgary Flames, who will host the Coyotes tonight in Alberta.
View from Arizona
Two even-strength and one power play goal in a single game should be enough to get the job done for your average team. Unfortunately, the Coyotes are not your average team, for better or worse.
Arizona’s penalty kill was porous enough to single-handedly cost the Coyotes the game against the New York Rangers, as they allowed four goals while shorthanded in a 6-3 loss. Even with New York’s recent scoring surge, the inability to keep the puck out of the net visibly frustrated Mike Smith, who has had to handle more work than any goaltender really should.
If nothing else, Arizona’s offense has strung together two decent games, creating shots and demonstrating some of the creative flair that Arizona was desperately looking for in its young players. But for 2017 to be kinder than 2016 was, Arizona’s back-end will need to be much, much better.
View from Calgary
For more on the Calgary Flames, check out Matchsticks & Gasoline
When last the Coyotes faced the Calgary Flames, Calgary was hanging around the bottom guaranteed playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Now, the Flames occupy the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but are in a tenuous position; Nashville and Los Angeles are both just two points back, and each have two games in hand.
Chad Johnson remains the guy in net for the Flames, which is disappointing given the expense the Flames went to in order to lure Brian Elliott away from St. Louis. A high-second rounder and a conditional third-rounder in 2018 is a high-price to pay for a player currently serving as backup goaltender. But so long as Johnson keeps Calgary in the playoff hunt, Flames fans might not mind so much.
- Will the Coyotes’ special teams hurt the team? - It’ll be hard for the penalty kill to be as bad as it was on Thursday, but it’s clearly one more area of concern. If Arizona can get out of Calgary without its special teams being a liability, that’s a win.
- Will Anthony Duclair score again? - After a rough start to 2016-17, Duclair now has a two-game goal scoring streak. Will he make it three tonight?
- Can the Coyotes win without Mike Smith? - Smith has shouldered a heavy load over the last month; he has started every game since December 5th and has been relieved only once by Louis Domingue in the process. Dave Tippett likes to lean on his starter, but how far can you lean before planting your goalie into the ground?
Players to Watch
Arizona - Radim Vrbata - Arizona has no double-digit goal scorers, but Vrbata is the closest. Will he get to 10 tonight?
Calgary - Johnny Gaudreau - Gaudreau leads his team in points despite missing 10 games, and is one goal off the scoring lead. It will be a tall order for Gaudreau to match his 2015-16 numbers given the injury, but Gaudreau is inching closer to that vaunted point per game pace.
Max Domi is on injured reserve thanks to a broken hand sustained in a fight against Calgary earlier this season, while Brad Richardson is also on injured reserve for an indeterminate period of time. Ryan White missed the last two games for Arizona and is not expected to play tonight either.
Calgary is without Ladislav Smid and Troy Brouwer, who are both on injured reserve. Dougie Hamilton missed the last game due to illness but is expected to play tonight.
Tonight’s game begins at 8 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on ESPN 620 AM.