Since January 1st, the Arizona Coyotes have been an entirely different team from the one that could barely muster a win over the first month of their season. Instead Arizona has become one of the hottest teams in the league, sticking with some of the most elite teams despite being in a position to secure some of the best draft odds they can for a draft with a generational defenseman on the line.
But over the last two games, an underlying issue all season has become clear again; the Coyotes can’t defend a lead. There have been instances during January and Feburaury where they have held teams off to preserve a win, but from October to basically now April, defending the lead has been an issue for this team.
This isn’t altogether surprising consider the youth of this team and it’s arguably a lesson they need to learn now while they’re still coming into their own.
Tonight they have another chance to learn how to play with the big-timers, as they meet the Tampa Bay Lightning on their last major east-coast roadie of the season.
The Bolts, who are in a dead heat with Nashville for the President’s Trophy, were incredibly aggressive at the deadline by acquiring defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers for Vladislav Namestnikov and some assets. While McDonagh has been recovering from an injury dating back to his time in New York, he’s now listed as healthy making Tampa’s defense perhaps the deepest and most potent blue-line in the NHL.
Compounding this match up’s importance for Arizona is Tampa’s backup goaltender Louis Domingue, who was considered to be Arizona’s backup for the foreseeable future at season’s start. However after a brutal start to the season in Antti Raanta’s absence, Domingue was moved to Tampa. He has since rediscovered himself and earned the backup position while Peter Budaj has been injured for much of the season.
Domingue, not unlike his former goaltending partner Mike Smith, made waves after leaving Arizona when he commented publically on how Arizona treated him during the trade process. Leading into tonight’s matchup, Domingue is 6-2 for Tampa with a .913 save percentage.
Other notes for this game include:
- Tampa is sitting Steven Stamkos for a day-to-day injury (commonly known at this time of year as resting him for the playoffs)
- Antti Raanta will start for Arizona after a bumpy road trip so far for Darcy Kuemper
- Dylan Strome will continue to get looks on this road trip, as he has begun to look more confident on NHL ice after a superb AHL campaign (the Roadrunners became the number one overall team in the AHL’s Western Conference last weekend)
You can catch tonight’s game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus and ESPN 620 AM at 4:30 p.m. Arizona/ 7:30 p.m. Eastern times. Following this game, Arizona will travel to Las Vegas and then on to Los Angeles before meeting the St. Louis Blues in Glendale.