On Tuesday, the Arizona Coyotes lost a close contest against the second best team in the Atlantic Division: the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tonight they play the best team in Florida and the division leaders in the Florida Panthers.
Matchup at a Glance
|Arizona Coyotes||Florida Panthers|
|Points||60 (4th Pacific)||75 (1st Atlantic)|
|Goals For||2.72 (9th)||2.68 (12th)|
|Goals Against||3.07 (30th)||2.29 (2nd)|
|Power Play||18.7% (14th)||16.4% (27th)|
|Penalty Kill||77.9% (26th)||81.6% (T-13th)|
|5v5 Corsi For||46.6% (28th)||47.4% (T-24th)|
|PDO||100.8 (6th)||102.0 (2nd)|
View from Arizona
In retrospect, this East Coast road trip has been a good measuring stick for the Coyotes' progression, as they got to play three of the East's best in a row. Whether or not you think they passed or failed the test depends on how long-term your perspective is.
Obviously dropping consecutive games against good teams is disappointing. Good teams are supposed to beat good teams sometimes after all. The anemic power play has been frustrating, as has the near total disappearance of Mikkel Boedker, who is supposed to be one of the league's most highly sought-after assets at the Trade Deadline.
But Arizona has hung tough with some truly excellent squads; Arizona gave up only three goals to Washington (though honestly, only two should have counted), while the Coyotes gave up only one even-strength goal to the Lightning.
With an eight point gap separating the Coyotes from the second Wild Card spot, this recent losing streak may be the stretch that knocked the Coyotes out of playoff contention. But Arizona is still fighting hard, and the foundation looks solid heading into the future.
View from Florida
For more on the Florida Panthers, check out Litter Box Cats
That the two best teams in a division including Montreal, Boston, and Toronto are from Florida should bring a warm feeling to the heart of every Sun Belt fan. The Florida Panthers have been excellent all season long, and their success starts with what's going on in net.
Roberto Luongo has been absolutely outstanding in his return to the Panthers; he is 25-14-5 with a .925 save percentage and four shutouts. Amid a very crowded field of Vezina Trophy candidates that includes the likes of Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider, and Corey Crawford, Luongo more than holds his own.
Being a goalie in Florida is nice, especially now that Aaron Ekblad is patrolling the blue-line in front. The 20 year old defenseman is making a mockery of conventional wisdom about developing blueliners, as his numbers are among the league's elite in just his second season:
Ekblad is going to give offensive players fits in the Eastern Conference for years, but for now, he and Luongo are a big reason behind Florida's improbable comeback from the league's cellar just two years ago.
Keys to the Game
1. Positives - Going through a losing stretch in the middle of a frantic playoff push can be grating on even the most veteran of players. Yet Arizona isn't playing that poorly. The Coyotes need to continue doing what they're doing well, which is giving Louis Domingue good looks at the net and getting offensive help from their back-end.
2. Keep Florida's Power Play Powerless - Giving up only one power play tally to the Capitals and Lightning is a major accomplishment considering some of the personnel on both of those units. Florida's power play is far less imposing, which is all the more reason why Arizona must keep a clean sheet on the penalty kill tonight.
3. Take Some Chances - Whether they're up by one or down by one, the Coyotes can't afford to turtle. They need to use their speed and skill players to take some risks.
Players to Watch
Kevin Connauton has three goals and two assists in his last five games for the Coyotes. The waiver pick-up could prove to be a huge addition to Arizona's blue-line if he can be a consistent point producer.
Let's all marvel for a moment at how incredible Jaromir Jagr is. He leads Florida in points with 43, which incredibly is still one point shy of his age. Any doubt that Jagr is one of the greatest of all-time should have been thoroughly eviscerated long ago, and the only question remaining in Jagr's career is whether or not he could have passed Gordie Howe were it not for the years he spent in the KHL.
Anders Lindback and Joe Vitale are done for the year, while Mike Smith is expected to return later in March. Boyd Gordon is traveling with the team on this trip but remains week-to-week.
Florida is missing some key components at the moment. Quinton Howden, David Bolland, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Willie Mitchell are all out indefinitely, while Brandon Pirri hasn't played since mid-February and may not play tonight either. Both Erik Gudbranson and Aleksander Barkov are expected to dress for the Panthers tonight though.
Tonight's game gets underway at 5:30 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on ESPN 620 AM.