The Arizona Coyotes’ road trip continues as they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time this season. Unfortunately, the Desert Dogs are still searching for their first win of the season, and the schedule will not get any easier from here.
Arizona took a while to get started against the Florida Panthers earlier this week. They could not get through the neutral zone to save their lives and ended up playing most of the first two periods in their own zone. However, they managed to do a decent job limiting Florida’s chances and stayed in the game despite the lack of sustained offensive zone time.
Nevertheless, the Coyotes will need to find a way to transition through the neutral zone and generate offensive pressure.
Also crucial for the Coyotes, staying disciplined. It’s tough because teams tend to take penalties when their opponents apply sustained pressure, and it is very easy to pressure the Coyotes right now. But the Yotes’ penalty kill has been abysmal to start the season. They have the worst penalty kill in the league, only killing 35.7% of penalties. It will take some time for the Desert Dogs to sort their penalty kill out, and for now, the best thing they can do is avoid taking penalties.
Tonight should mark the first game for Coyotes’ prospect Barrett Hayton, who was called up after Nick Schmaltz was injured against the Panthers. The team probably wanted to give Hayton some more time to develop in the AHL this season, but it will be interesting to see if the young forward can do with the chance he is given while Schmaltz is day-to-day.
The Tampa Bay Lightning saw some significant moves in the offseason. Depending on who you ask, the Lightning either found some clever loopholes in the rules or engaged in cap circumvention, but either way, they had to shed salary.
But that doesn’t mean the Lightning got significantly worse. They still have offensive weapons like Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, and their blue line has Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. And they still have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning did suffer another setback this week, announcing that Nikita Kucherov will be out until late January with an upper-body injury following surgery. Kucherov missed much of the 2021 season but was somehow able to come back and lead the Lightning with 32 points in the postseason.
But despite still looking elite, the Lightning are not off to the best start. They aren’t awful, just you would expect them to have a better record than 3-3-1.
Part of that may just be the expected Stanley Cup hangover. We see it a lot, a team wins the cup and spends more time celebrating and less time training, and it takes them a little bit to get back into top form. Or they may be taking time to adjust to changes in the roster, they did see numerous players leave during the offseason.
And it’s not like the Lightning lost to bad teams. This season, they have dropped games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, and Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins and Avalanche are also good teams who have had only average starts, while the Panthers and Sabres have had extremely hot starts, even if there is an expectation that the Sabres at least will cool down.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller had a nifty breakaway goal to start the Coyotes’ scoring on Monday. He currently leads the team with three goals and four assists.
Tampa Bay: Ondrej Palat - Palat had a goal and an assist in the Lightning’s last game and has three goals on the season.
Arizona: Nick Schmaltz (undisclosed), Carter Hutton (lower body), Conor Timmins (lower body), Ryan Dzingel (upper body), Alex Galchenyuk (upper body), Kyle Capobianco (lower body)
Tampa Bay: Gemel Smith (lower body), Nikita Kucherov (lower body), Zach Bogosian (lower body)
Tonight's game is another afternoon game and will start at 4:00 pm. The game will air on Bally Sports Arizona and ESPN 620 AM.