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Game 56 Preview: Coyotes look to finish the season strong in San Jose

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The shortened NHL season comes to a close for the Arizona Coyotes tonight against divisional rival San Jose Sharks

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview

Tonight’s game will be the last game for the Arizona Coyotes this season, and it will also include many other lasts at the end of the evening. For some players, it will be the last time they wear a Coyotes jersey. For others, it could be the last time they wear an NHL jersey at all, whether it be being sent to the AHL or retiring.

This will also be the final game for the Coyotes franchise in their current division, as weird as this one-off division is. With the Seattle Kraken’s initiation into the league, the Coyotes will be moving to the Central Division next season.

No matter what tonight’s match-up against the San Jose Sharks brings, the goal is to end the season with a win on the road and heads held high.

It has been a season of highs and lows, but last night’s come-from-behind win against the San Jose Sharks is just what the team needed to motivate for a closeout win tonight.

Last night’s win featured milestone goals from three Coyotes players. Phil Kessel scored his 900th career point with a goal last night, while Jan Jeník and Victor Söderström scored their first career NHL goals.

Although a playoff berth was not in the cards for the Coyotes this season, fans have already seen throughout the back half of the season what the young talent from the AHL affiliate Tuscon Roadrunners have been able to accomplish during their trips to the NHL. Michael Bunting has been electric, scoring ten goals since his arrival to the Arizona Coyotes just over a month ago.

Tonight’s game is simply about motivations, both as individual players looking forward to nursing injuries and taking a break from the grueling demand of an NHL season, and for the team as they look towards free agency and setting expectations for next season. Finding that motivation to play one more game is not as easy as it may sound.

For Arizona, a win against their divisional rival is always an incredible feeling. But beating your divisional rival in the last game of the season and gaining bragging rights by winning the overall season series would feel even better.

For the Sharks, their motivation comes from entering tonight’s game with a 3-4 record against Arizona this season and losing their last three home games. Stripping bragging rights from their rivals and ending a home losing streak is a great motivation for a team looking for something to play for.

Keys to Victory

Pack Your Bags: Tonight’s match-up against the San Jose Sharks will be the last opportunity for the young talent to show that the NHL is where they belong when roster decisions are made for next season. For Jan Jeník and Victor Söderström, a big night could mean packing up their bags and making a more permanent move north from Tucson to Glendale.

Don’t Play Catch-up: Even though Arizona boasts the best record in the NHL when being down by two or more goals, the team would much rather not have to play from behind. Continuing the success from the third period of last night’s game is vital to the team’s ability to win tonight. Controlling the pace of play when possible and maintaining a defensive presence in the neutral zone created problems for San Jose Friday night. If Arizona can take away passing and shooting lanes in the defensive zone as well, there is no reason the team should give up early goals and be forced to play from behind.

Showtime: Much like the young guns on the team, veterans have a lot to prove as well. Players like Conor Garland and Michael Bunting are looking for raises in the upcoming free agency period. One game isn’t likely to make or break a major contract extension or increase in pay, but maintaining consistent levels of play will be a key factor when deciding extensions for some players or when GMs across the league are looking for the league’s next stars.

Players to Watch

Arizona: Conor Garland - Garland has had an impressive run lately, and last night’s performance was just what he needed heading into the off-season. But the work is not over just yet, and another multiple-point performance can be the difference between a win and a loss tonight.

San Jose: Evander Kane - Kane was close to scoring a goal on multiple occasions last night, and his play-making ability is apparent every time he steps foot on the ice. In many ways, the future is in limbo for Kane, and a career night is just what he could use to turn over the tides in a positive direction in all aspects of his life.

Injuries

Arizona: Nick Schmaltz (head), Lawson Crouse (questionable, lower body), Antti Raanta (upper body), Tyler Pitlick (lower body), Jordan Gross (lower body), Johan Larsson (questionable, undisclosed)

San Jose: Joachim Blichfeld (questionable, upper body), Radim Simek (upper body), Matt Nieto (lower body), Logan Couture (questionable, lower body)

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game is at 7:30 pm Arizona time and it will air on Bally Sports Arizona+ and Fox Sports 910 AM.