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Coyotes Game 69 Preview: Coyotes head to the Windy City

The Arizona Coyotes are back on the road for a back-to-back against division rivals.

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Chicago Blackhawks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Game Preview

The Arizona Coyotes’ season is rapidly coming to an end. There is no chance that the Desert Dogs will make the post-season, meaning their season will be ending later this month. If this season is all about showing what their younger players can do, they don’t have much time left to make their mark.

Last Friday was the first Arizona Coyotes game without Clayton Keller in years. Unfortunately, a massive 5-0 loss saw the Coyotes’ shut out and routed as they dropped their game against a former Division rival, the Anaheim Ducks.

The Coyotes are in the first year of their rebuild, which can make things painful to watch, but great if you are a younger player looking for ice time. The Coyotes have seen injuries take out some of their top players like Lawson Crouse, Jakob Chychrun, and of course Clayton Keller, and they need their younger prospects to step up and show what they can do.

Unfortunately, the Coyotes will be missing another player today. Forward Nick Ritchie was given a one-game suspension for slashing Kevin Shattenkirk late in the first period. It was potentially a very dangerous move that deserved supplemental discipline.

This season the Coyotes have embraced a “next man up” mentality. In their last game, three of the Coyotes’ defensemen were call-ups from the Tucson Roadrunners, as were five of the team’s forwards. Playing in the NHL is definitely a big step forward, but the team will need someone to take the next step and score some goals.

Lack of offense wasn’t the only reason for the Coyotes’ loss on Friday. Goaltender Karel Vejmelka had a rare off night and was pulled after allowing three goals in less than ten minutes to start the game. Vejmelka has kept the team in games before, but it may be time to rest him and let Ivan Prosvetov get a start either today or tomorrow.

On Friday, the Coyotes played the second to last team in the Pacific Division, but today they play the second to last in the Central. The Chicago Blackhawks have 58 points in 69 games and have dropped their previous four games.

This season does not seem to have gone the way that Chicago anticipated. Last July, they acquired Marc-André Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights, implying they thought they were close to competing. Unfortunately, that experiment didn’t work out, and the Blackhawks shipped out Fleury, Ryan Carpenter, and Brandon Hagel at the trade deadline.

It should be no surprise when you look at the standings, but the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t that much better than the Coyotes this season. They are better in almost every category, but not by much. Arizona is dealing with a lot more injuries, but if they were healthy, this could have been a close matchup.

Chicago does have one area that they do slightly better, their power play. It’s not great; they are 17th in the league converting on 21.1% of man advantages, but it is better than most areas of the Blackhawks games. The Coyotes don’t need to give the Blackhawks any easy ones, so the best plan will be to stay out of the box.

Players to Watch

Arizona: Jan Jeník - Jeník had two goals the last time the Coyotes’ scored a goal and is one of the younger players that the Coyotes hope will be taking the next step in the coming years. So far, he has only scored against the San Jose Sharks, but hopefully, he can get another goal tonight.

Chicago: Dylan Strome - Strome had an assist on the Blackhawk’s lone goal in their last game and has 19 goals and 23 assists in 56 games with Chicago this season. Strome has taken some time to find his game, but he is starting to look like the player the Coyotes drafted.

Injuries

Arizona: Nick Ritchie (suspension), Lawson Crouse (hand), Christian Fischer (lower body), Jack McBain (ankle), J.J. Moser (upper body), Jakob Chychrun (lower body), Clayton Keller (leg), Antoine Roussel (lower body), Liam O’Brien (upper body), Andrew Ladd (lower body), Dmitrij Jaškin (lower body), Conor Timmins (knee)

Chicago: Connor Murphy (concussion), Andrew Shaw (concussion), Jujhar Khaira (back)

Puck Drop

Today’s game is an early one, with a 4:00 pm Arizona time start. The game will air on Bally Sports Arizona Extra and 98.7 FM.