After winning all three games of their homestand, the Arizona Coyotes are back on the road. They will be starting a four-game road trip to visit both Florida teams, Philadelphia, and Chicago, before returning home on January 8th.
The Coyotes stunned the hockey world by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 in their last game, sweeping the Leafs for the second consecutive season. It wasn’t their cleanest game, but it showed the continued improvement we saw against the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.
Thankfully, the Coyotes did not take too many penalties against Toronto. It’s a good thing too, because the Leafs scored on both of their power plays, and things could have turned out differently if they had taken another trip to the box.
But Toronto wasn’t the only team who had success with the man advantage. The Coyotes got offense from their blue line with the man advantage, with both Jakob Chychrun and J.J. Moser notching power play goals for the Desert Dogs. Combine that with solid goaltending and 5-on-5 offense, and you have a recipe for success.
If the Coyotes want to continue winning, good goaltending will be crucial. Karel Vejmelka has been very successful in his sophomore season and has stolen a few games for the team in front of him. He did have support on Thursday, but the ten saves he made in the third period to keep the Maple Leafs from building any momentum definitely contributed to the Yotes’ win.
The Coyotes’ first opponent leaving the Mullett Arena is a lot like their last opponent. The Tampa Bay Lightning are top-three in the Atlantic Division and have the same number of wins as the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Leafs have played more games and have more loser points, giving them a five-point lead on the Lightning.
The Lightning are on a three-game homestand of their own, and just like the Coyotes Thursday, they are looking to win all three. They beat the Montréal Canadiens and New York Rangers in a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday and just need to defeat the Coyotes to complete the trifecta.
While the Lightning may have lost a few players from their back-to-back Cup wins, they are still an outstanding team. They have five players with 13 or more goals, including Brayden Point, who already has 20. More impressively, they have three players, Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov, who are point-per-game players.
If the Coyotes want any chance tonight, they must stay out of the box. Tampa Bay has the seventh-best power play in the league, and they are likely to make the Coyotes pay anytime they are sent to the box. Unfortunately, they also have the sixth-best penalty kill, so it’s fair to say that the Lightning have the advantage when it comes to special teams.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Nick Bjugstad - Bjugstad had a goal and an assist against the Maple Leafs, giving him three points in his last two games. He has been a big surprise this season and comes into tonight’s game with eight goals, seven of which were scored 5-on-5, with one short-handed.
Tampa Bay: Nikita Kucherov - Kucherov had an assist in the Lightning’s last game and has four points in his previous three games. He currently leads the Lightning with 51 points in 34 games.
Arizona: Matias Maccelli (lower body), Liam O’Brien (upper body), Bryan Little (ear), Andrew Ladd (knee)
Tampa Bay: Erik Cernak (questionable, undisclosed), Rudolfs Balcer (upper body), Brent Seabrook (shoulder)
Tonight’s game in Tampa Bay is at 3:00 pm Arizona time and will air on Bally Sports Arizona and ESPN 620AM.