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Arizona Coyotes host Vancouver Canucks for penultimate game of 2016-17 season

Two teams near the bottom of the standings do battle in the desert as players play for pride and paychecks.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This is the fifth of five season tilts between the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks, the latest of which came in late January at Gila River Arena. The Coyotes shut out the Canucks in Arizona behind Mike Smith’s 19 saves and goals from Lawson Crouse and Alex Burmistrov.

In a practical sense, this game means little other than to finalize draft odds for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Yet both teams are surely looking to finish the campaign on a positive note and set the tone for a productive offseason.

View From Vancouver

For more info on the Vancouver Canucks, check out Nucks Misconduct

Vancouver’s already slow season has ground to a halt. Their last outing, a 3-1 defeat against the Sharks in San Jose, was their fifth loss in a row. The Coyotes now only trail them by a single point.

The Canucks may be having trouble finding motivation this late in a lost season, but any lineup that features a pair of Sedins and Ryan Miller in net can never be written off. After all, even though Arizona came out on top in the most recent match-up between these squads, Vancouver took the previous three.

View From Arizona

Like the Canucks, the playoffs have long been out of the realm of possibility for the Arizona Coyotes. Yet the mood has been different as of late for the Desert Dogs and their fans. 2-0-1 in their last three, and with multiple veterans missing from the lineup, the Coyotes’ young core continues to provide serious reason for optimism.

Clayton Keller now has a few NHL contests under his belt and should as a result feel more confident when the 2017-18 roster is being debated. Confidence also seems to be returning for Anthony Duclair, who spent a stint with the Roadrunners in Tucson during a slump that lasted most of his season. He’s now got two goals in as many games.

Three Questions

1. Can the Coyotes make a leap in the standings? - The idea that the Coyotes might pass anyone in standings points was nearly inconceivable a few months ago. But some cohesive play down the stretch combined with a tanking Canucks team has them poised to jump from 29th to 28th overall with a win tonight, although Vancouver does have a game in hand.

2. Will the Duclair Renaissance persist? - As previously mentioned, Anthony Duclair seems to have figured it out once again. Can he continue to contribute, and perhaps make it three goals in three games tonight?

3. Will Shane Doan take the ice? - It’s possible that this year will be the Captain’s last in the National Hockey League. Even if that’s not the case, he surely wants to play these last two games on home ice if possible.

Players to Watch

Vancouver - Bo Horvat - With a team-leading 51 points on the season, Horvat has been a force for the Canucks. They’ll look to him to help get them on the board early at Gila River Arena tonight.

Arizona - Christian Dvorak - Dvorak deserves to be highlighted as he’s quietly solidified his position as a top forward on this team, and, in addition to his solid all-around game, is good for one or two jaw-dropping plays every time he suits up. But by all means, please pay attention to every single rookie and sophomore in the Coyotes’ lineup on every game night. Any one of them could prove to be the difference maker.

Injury Report

Vancouver - Winger Loui Eriksson, winger Jack Skille, center Brendan Gaunce and defenseman Joseph Cramarossa are out, in addition to winger Derek Dorsett, center Markus Granlund, winger Anton Rodin and defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who are all on injured reserve for the Canucks.

Arizona - Brad Richardson remains out, and will be for the rest of the season. Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata are listed as day-to-day.

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game starts at 7:00pm in Arizona. You can watch it on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, Fox Sports Go, or listen to it on ESPN Radio Phoenix 620 AM.