How sweet it is to be home for the Arizona Coyotes. Per ESPN Stats, the Coyotes' 21 road games in 33 games are the most in the NHL. And while Arizona has been disappointing in plenty of respects, their home-road splits are staggering, and tell a tale all their own.
Coyotes Road vs. Home
Look, I'm not telling you that winning one in four games is good. I'm just telling you there's a not insignificant difference in the team's performance at home versus on the road, and that the Coyotes have played an unusually high number of road games.
So the fact that this is a home game means something! The players get to sleep in their own beds! The warmth of the home crowd will lead them to victory!
...wait, who are we playing again?
View From Tampa Bay
(For the Tampa take, check out Raw Charge)
First in points. First in goals. First in power play percentage. First in goal differential. And winners of five straight.
We can split hairs about their relatively middling 5v5 CorsiFor% (12th) and their league-leading PDO, but no one has scored more, or subsequently won more games than the Tampa Bay Lightning. And only two teams have allowed less goals. They look like the best team in the league entering tonight's game.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are clowning other clubs. Andrei Vasilevsky has been the league's best goaltender thus far. And then there's defensemen Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev to talk about. This is a deep, talented team that is creating their own luck and getting every bounce right now.
I don't know, maybe they're tired? Maybe this is a trap game? The typically East Coast team maybe is disoriented by a West Coast contest? Anything can happen in a single game.
View From Arizona
Despite losing four straight coming into tonight, Arizona is coming off two of its better games of the season. They were unfortunate in running into a lights-out Sergei Bobrovsky, then crumbling in Chicago after skating strong with the Hawks for 90% of the game. But in this fan's eyes, they played good hockey in both of those games, if not necessarily winning hockey.
Not only is this a seemingly rare home game -- but the 'Yotes will be playing on three days rest for only the second time all season. Antti Raanta will also likely man the pipes, and he's been borderline great in most of his outings.
So there are several reasons to think a confident, comfortable Coyotes team will show up tonight at Gila River Arena.
How does Antti Raanta look?
Last time out, Raanta played good enough to win against Columbus. But this is Arizona's No. 1 goaltender, and has played in less that half of the team's games this year. If his injury woes are behind him, he greatly increases the ceiling of a team still trying to find its identity.
How far off are the Coyotes?
Tampa is the clear cream of the crop in the NHL this season. The Coyotes -- well, right now they aren't. I'm always interested in barometer games like this, so to speak. I vividly remember the Washington game late last year, and how good it felt to win against what was clearly one of the best teams in the league. Coincidentally, that game snapped a four game losing streak, and led to a 4-1-1 stretch of play to end the season. So against the best team in the land, does Arizona show up? Or do they give Tampa a chance to flex their muscles?
Who's a passenger?
Since exploding for five goals at home (!) against New Jersey, Arizona has averaged a goal scored per game in four straight losses. In that same stretch, they've allowed 14 goals. Few offenses can score at a rate to overcome such sieve-like defense, but Arizona hasn't even sniffed respectability on offense these last few games. It feels like only Anthony Duclair can generate offense consistently at this point. At a certain point, clearly talented players like Max Domi and Clayton Keller, and relative veterans like Derek Stepan need to break out of their slumps, instead of letting them define them.
Players to Watch
Arizona D Joel Hanley
He's Arizona's leader in +/- on the season, with a +1.
He has a single shot on goal all season -- and it was part of a Coyotes victory (Nov 18 against Ottawa).
His legend precedes him, like lightning precedes thunder. (Get it?)
He is the Most Interesting Depth Defenseman in the World.
He doesn't always play, but when he does, it's for an average ice time of 10:45 per game.
Tampa Bay W Nikita Kucherov
D Niklas Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
D Braydon Coburn is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
W Ryan Callahan is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
This game can be viewed in-market on Fox Sports Arizona at 7 p.m. AZ, on Fox Sports Arizona, on the Fox Sports Go app anywhere, and NHL.tv for out-of-market viewers.
For Tampa viewers, FOX Sports Sun is the place to go.
The radio call with 'Heeter and Biz' can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.