Like the rest of the NHL, Arizona took an unscheduled break last week, with the NHL deciding to shut down games until after the Holiday Break to deal with the recent surge of COVID-19 cases among NHL players. Thankfully, we haven’t seen long-term injuries with this current crop, unlike before the season started when players were sidelined for a year with heart conditions, but the NHL needed time to address the issue. And so, with the return of hockey tonight, we also get the return of the Taxi Squads.
Arizona has been hit relatively hard by COVID-19 and currently has six players listed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. The Coyotes don’t have a lot of big names, which means they rely a lot more on players like Lawson Crouse, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Jay Beagle more than other teams might.
The Coyotes will be going into tonight’s game with some momentum if the week off hasn’t drained that all away. Arizona won their last matchup against the Anaheim Ducks 6-5 in overtime just before the postponed games. Of course, long breaks can be challenging for teams, but at least the Coyotes had some positives to look to, and hopefully, they can come out swinging tonight.
Unlike the Coyotes, the Sharks dropped their last two games before the long holiday break. And to make matters worse, both teams they lost to, the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks, are below the Sharks in the standings.
Earlier this month, it looked like the Sharks were having problems generating consistent offense. They have scored three or more goals only twice this month, a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames and a 6-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. If that trend continues, it will mean good things for the Coyotes, who have also struggled to score.
The Sharks have also had to deal with players on the COVID-19 protocol list, although not as many as the Coyotes. Currently, only Adin Hill, Tomáš Hertl, and Jonathan Dahlen are ineligible, but they are some more significant pieces of the Sharks.
Without Hill, it seems highly likely that the Sharks will start James Reimer tonight. Reimer has been good in his first season back in San Jose, and in 16 games, he has a 1.99 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
Players to Watch:
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller had two goals and an assist in the Coyotes’ last game and has five points in his previous two. The Coyotes need all the offense they can get, and so much of the offense this season has been coming from Keller.
San Jose: Brent Burns - Burns comes into tonight’s game riding a two-game point streak, with assists in the Sharks’ last two games. Burns is currently fourth on the Sharks in points and third in assists.
Arizona: Christian Fischer (COVID-19 protocol), Ilya Lyubushkin (COVID-19 protocol), Liam O’Brien (COVID-19 protocol), Alex Galchenyuk (COVID-19 protocol), Lawson Crouse (COVID-19 protocol), Jay Beagle (lower body), Jakob Chychrun (upper body), Ryan Dzingel (upper body), Dmitrij Jaškin (lower body), Carter Hutton (lower body), Conor Timmins (knee)
San Jose: Kevin Labanc (upper body), Nikolai Knyzhov (lower body), Adin Hill (COVID-19 protocol), Tomáš Hertl (COVID-19 protocol), Jonathan Dahlén (COVID-19 protocol), Rudolfs Balcers (lower body)
Tonight’s game will be in San Jose at 8:30 pm and will air on ESPN+, Hulu, and 620 AM.