The Arizona Coyotes are back home after a two-game back-to-back road trip.
The road trip was a mixed bag. In their first game, Arizona played poorly against the Winnipeg Jets but walked away with two points thanks to the stellar play of Karel Vejmelka. They looked much better the next night against the Minnesota Wild but didn’t have the same luck and phenomenal goaltending and fell 5-2.
Unfortunately, that loss also came with the loss of forward Johan Larsson, who is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Larsson was previously missing time after being placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, and will is looking at more time out.
Arizona has had some bright spots in their play this season, and that should make tonight’s matchup an interesting one. This season, the Coyotes are a heavier, much more physical group that isn’t afraid to hit hard and drop the gloves. The Vegas Golden Knights have historically played exceptionally well against the Coyotes, but this is a different team that could be a better matchup.
Vegas is also a different team this season. The offseason saw them lose the reigning Vezina winner Marc-André Fleury for practically nothing as they strived to make cap space. They also lost forward Alex Tuch and prospect Peyton Krebs in the trade for Jack Eichel, who has resumed skating after his neck surgery but will be unavailable for tonight’s game.
It looked like the Vegas Golden Knights were going to cruise to a division title going into this season. But a rash of injuries led to a slow start, and the Golden Knights are currently 5th in the division.
The Golden Knights had to deal with some significant injuries to their key contributors. Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault all missed considerable time to start this season, and they have been missed.
The Golden Knights are still very much in the playoff race despite the rough start. They are only three points behind the next highest team, the San Jose Sharks, and have a game in hand. The Central Division teams are also pretty close in the standings, and a Wild Card spot is still in play.
Vegas comes into tonight’s game having lost their last two games, falling 3-2 to the Edmonton Oilers and 6-5 to the Anaheim Ducks. But that doesn’t mean they will be easy tonight, considering both the Oilers and Ducks are currently two of the top three teams in the Pacific Coyotes games this season have so often come down to special teams. Unfortunately, the Golden Knights have improved in that area from the start of the season. After a bit of a slow start, the Golden Knights’ power play is still towards the bottom of the league, 25th with a 13.7% success rate, but still better than the Coyotes. Vegas’ penalty kill is also mid-tier, ranked 15th in the league at 82.5%, but that is better than the Coyotes’ 29th ranked penalty kill.
Vegas’ last game was a special teams bonanza. Vegas had two short-handed goals and two power play goals and gave up a short-handed goal. So the Coyotes will want to stay disciplined and not too cocky on any power plays.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller had a goal and an assist in the Coyotes’ last game and currently leads the Coyotes with six goals. He has looked really engaged this season and doesn’t hesitate to go to the front of the net.
Vegas: Max Pacioretty - Pacioretty has been limited to just five games this season, but he already has three goals and four assists. Since returning from injuries, he has played three games and has points in all three, including a goal and an assist in the Golden Knights’ last game against the Ducks.
Arizona: Johan Larsson (lower body), Jay Beagle (lower body), Dmitrij Jaškin (lower body), Nick Schmaltz (upper body), Carter Hutton (lower body), Conor Timmins (knee)
Vegas: Alec Martinez (face), Jack Eichel (neck), William Karlsson (foot), Nolan Patrick (upper body)
Tonight’s game will be at Gila River Arena at 7:30 pm Arizona time and will air on ESPN+, Hulu, and 620 AM.