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After four-day hiatus, Arizona Coyotes host slumping Habs

Will the Arizona Coyotes emerge rejuvenated from the break in their schedule? Or will they struggle to find rhythm?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second of two match-ups between the Arizona Coyotes and the Montreal Canadiens, the first of which came in October 2016, before either team knew what their 2016-17 ethos would be. Their respective tales couldn’t be more different: Montreal sits atop the Atlantic Division, poised to make a deep playoff run, while Arizona once again is forced to look forward to the NHL Draft Lottery.

Yet, amid the return of spark plug Max Domi and a bit of offensive buzz, the Coyotes have looked as good as they have at any point thus far this season, and could be poised to extend the Canadiens skid to five games.

View From Montreal

For more info on the Montreal Canadiens, check out Eyes on the Prize.

While the Eastern Conference standings would suggest a cruising Canadiens team, that’s hardly been the case as of late. Their Tuesday night 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was their fourth losing effort during the nine-day-old month of February.

However, Montreal’s lack of recent success is hardly reason for any opponent to take them lightly. On the shoulders of superstar goaltender (and Shane Doan cousin) Carey Price, they allow just 2.44 goals per game on average, which is seventh best in the league. The Canadiens’ offense is potent as well: their 21.9% power play percentage ranks sixth best in the NHL.

The other obvious storyline from this meet-up is the very real possibility the two teams turn out to be trading partners this year. Martin Hanzal’s name has been connected with Montreal too many times to simply be idle chatter. Michael McCarron has been brought up as a possible trade piece coming back Arizona’s way, but GM Marc Bergevin is understandably reluctant to part ways with his 21 year-old right handed center.

But then again, guess who got recalled just in time for tonight’s game?

View From Arizona

While this season as a whole has been far from stellar for the Arizona Coyotes, a snapshot of the past few weeks might suggest a different narrative. Picking up eight points in their last six games, this group seems to be figuring things out to some extent.

Mike Smith continues to play some of his best hockey since the 2011-12 campaign, saving 38 of 40 shots during his most recent outing against the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks. Max Domi is once again a regular nightly fixture for Arizona, and the sooner he hits his stride again as a scorer and playmaker, the better.

Three Questions

1. How will the Coyotes surface from their brief rest? - A short break during the season can do wonders for a team suffering from the incessant grind of the NHL season. But for the Coyotes, who were seemingly starting to gel before the four-day rest, it may have come at the worst possible time. Will fans see the same team tonight as they were beginning to see last week?

2. Will the Canadiens bounce back? - Its been a humbling stretch of games for one of the NHL’s most storied franchises. A game against the often-struggling Coyotes could be a prime chance for them to right the ship. It could, however, be another trap, a la Colorado last Tuesday night.

3. Who will win the goalie battle? - If this game turns into a netminder duel, who will prevail?: The Coyotes’ Mike Smith? Or the Canadiens’ Carey Price? Both have proven themselves to be fully capable of willing their team to victory on any given night.

Players to Watch

Calgary - Carey Price - As goals have been seemingly difficult to come by for Montreal (they’ve scored five in their last four games), they’ll be relying on the world-class play of Price to keep them in games until they can once again put pucks in the net with consistency.

Arizona - Max Domi - Back for his third game since missing nearly two months with a hand injury, Domi will be looking to reassert himself as a force for the sometimes anemic Coyotes offense. Look for him to get things going early.

Injury Report

Calgary - The Canadiens continue to be without winger Brendan Gallagher, who has been out since January with a hand injury.

Arizona - Coyotes centerman Brad Richardson remains out with a leg injury, which he suffered in November 2016. Martin Hanzal and Alex Goligoski are both under the weather, and are uncertain for tonight’s game.

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game starts at 7pm in Arizona. You can watch it on Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports Go or listen to it on KTAR News Radio 92.3 FM.