The Arizona Coyotes have been playing better lately, winning games you wouldn't expect them to win and staying competitive in games that they have lost. It remains to be seen if this trend can continue for the rest of the season and beyond.
View from Arizona
In their last game, the Coyotes played two periods very well before almost blowing it in the third by letting the Pittsburgh Penguins come back and force the game into overtime. And while it’s tough to blame a team for letting the defending Stanley Cup Champions come back in a game, it does serve to underline where the team seems to be at this point in the season and their rebuild. The Yotes are currently playing better, especially compared to earlier in the season, but there are still holes in their game and still plenty of room for improvement.
There have been stretches where fans would have killed for the Desert Dogs to score the way they have been their past few games. In three of the past four games the Yotes have scored at least three goals, and they are getting goals from a variety of sources. Rookies like Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini have lit the lamp, but this month saw veterans like Shane Doan and Alex Goligoski register goals as well. Even Connor Murphy scored his first goal of the season with the overtime winner against the Penguins. It’s hard not to be happy to see the offense seem to start to click, even if it’s a little too late.
View from Calgary
From an outsider’s perspective, Calgary appears to be a team that is improving slowly but still isn’t ready for the playoffs yet. Looking at the standings they appear to be where many thought Arizona could theoretically be this season, a team with a fair amount of younger players fighting for a Wild Card playoff spot, but still not good enough to get to that next level.
Central to the Flames offense is their younger players, especially their forwards. 2016 draft pick Matthew Tkachuk is their youngest player, and is having a very good rookie season with 10 goals and 24 assists in 52 games. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau each have 35 points on the season, despite Gaudreau missing ten games this season.
Perhaps the biggest weakness for the Flames this season is their goaltending. Calgary acquired Brian Elliott in an effort to stabilize their goaltending situation, but he is currently having his worst season since he played for the Ottawa Senators in 2010-2011. Former Coyote Chad Johnson in his first season with the Flames seems to be playing better, but his .914 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average aren’t that great.
1. Can the Coyotes keep it in regulation? The Coyotes past three games went into overtime, and while the guaranteed point is nice, it would be better if the Yotes could finish a game in 60 minutes.
2. Will the offense continue? The Coyotes have struggled to do a lot this season, including scoring goals. Thankfully, they seemed to have solved that problem, and have been generating fairly good offense for the past few weeks. It remains to be seen if they can keep up with that pace though.
3. Can the Coyotes match the desperate Flames? The Yotes don’t have much to play for tonight, other than pride, unlike the Flames. Calgary is currently one point out of the playoffs and has played one more game then the Los Angeles Kings, the team ahead of them. You have to believe that the Flames aren’t going to leave anything on the ice for the rest of the season, and the Coyotes are going to need to match that intensity.
Players to Watch
Arizona – Martin Hanzal. Hanzal had two goals against the Penguins and is currently tied for leading goalscorer on the Yotes with Tobias Reider, while playing in seven fewer games. It seems likely that the Yotes will be shopping the big Czech center, and with a few more games like Saturday’s they should have a few buyers lining up.
Calgary – Mikael Backlund. Calgary’s first round pick in 2007 is currently on pace for his best to have his best season with the Flames this year. He currently has the second most goals of a Flames player with 15, and leads the team in points with 38.
Brad Richardson is still listed as injured for the Coyotes and it remains unclear when he will be able to return.
Calgary is missing defenseman Ladislav Smid, who is out for the rest of the season with a neck injury.
Tonight’s game will be airing at 7pm on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, and 92.3FM KTAR News.