The Arizona Coyotes trip to Los Angeles feels weird. It was a single game in a season where most games are against the team twice, and it interrupted an eleven-game homestand. If this was a video game, it would be an optional sidequest, a quick trip to face an old rival before things get tough.
And things are about to get much tougher. Tonight the Coyotes face off against the Minnesota Wild for the first game of a back-to-back. Over the next two weeks, the Coyotes will face the Wild five times.
Arizona will have hopefully gained some confidence and momentum after beating the Kings. They scored first and didn’t have to crawl back from a deficit, and they controlled the pace of the game well, although they were far from perfect. They fell into a defensive shell during the third period when they had a two-goal lead. That is far from ideal but a common sight in hockey.
The Yotes need to take the best parts of their game on Wednesday and bring them into tonight’s game. They need to score first and get offense on the power play, they need to get solid goaltending, and they need goals from players other than their top line.
Last season the Coyotes matched up terribly against the Wild. They lost all three games, with the more physical Wild grinding them down. Arizona is far from a heavyweight team this season, but they added some grit, which will be tested tonight.
Earlier this season, Minnesota had some issues with COVID protocol, but that seems to be over. And since coming back, they have played extremely well, winning six of their last nine games.
Three of those wins were against the Sharks and Ducks, but Minnesota also beat the Kings and the Avalanche. Their offense seems to have been relatively streaky during that run, scoring three or more goals in seven games and one or fewer in two.
Two of their three losses did come earlier this week, with the Wild dropping to the Vegas Golden Knights. They lost 5-4 in overtime on Monday before falling 5-1 on Wednesday.
The Coyotes may have caught the Wild at the perfect time, as they are beginning a slump.
Special teams were a significant factor in the Coyotes’ win on Wednesday, with the Desert Dogs scoring twice on the power play. The power play should be an advantage for the Coyotes tonight, with the Wild having the worst power play in the league, converting only 7.6% of the time.
Minnesota is much better on the penalty kill. They are ranked seventh in the league, ahead of the Coyotes, and kill 83.1% of penalties. It will be hard for the Coyotes to score with the man advantage, but hopefully, it will be even harder for the Wild to convert.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller is riding a two-game goal streak and has recently been deployed with Christian Dvorak. It seems to be working well enough, and it will be interesting to see how Keller progresses with the new linemate.
Minnesota: Marcus Foligno - Foligno scored the Wild's lone goal in their previous game and has three goals and four points in his last two games. He is fourth on the team in points, and second in goals behind Joel Eriksson Ek.
Arizona: Darcy Kuemper (questionable, lower body)
Minnesota: Ryan Hartman (questionable, lower body), Marcus Johansson (upper body), Marco Rossi (upper body)
Tonight's game will be in Arizona at 7:00 pm Arizona time. It will air on Fox Sports Arizona and Fox Sports 910 AM.