Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Smith of the Coyotes will need to be pivotal figures if the team wants to return to the NHL playoffs this season.
The Phoenix Coyotes are coming off of a week in which they obtained four out of a possible eight points. This week coming up is going to be difficult for the 'Yotes, as they start the week at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and then embark on a four-game road trip with games against a difficult St. Louis Blues team before ending the week in Columbus for a tussle against the Blue Jackets.
The week gives the Desert Dogs a chance to breathe a little bit, as they will get away from the pressures at home and can focus on playing tough, physical road hockey, something that the Coyotes have been very successful at in the past few seasons under Dave Tippett.
The week also provides only three games and no back-to-back games, which will be nice for the team since they have had to play back-to-back games five times already in this shortened season. It should also allow, barring injury, Mike Smith to be in net for all three games during the week.
Phoenix has been pretty solid offensively over the past week. They scored nine goals in four games and had contributions from 13 players on the offensive end, led by captain Shane Doan's three goals last week and three points a piece from forward David Moss and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Although the game against Dallas on Saturday showed what the Coyotes could do defensively when they play well, the defense will need to improve. Overall, the Coyotes gave up 13 goals this past week, and goalie Mike Smith will have to play better (2-1, 3.66 GAA, .865 save pct.) this week than he did last week.
The Coyotes have to hope for at least three points this week, but capturing four points or more would make for a successful three-game stint.
The Coyotes will have to find a way to contain the Kings this week in Phoenix.
The Los Angeles Kings are once again playing great hockey. They have won eight of their last 10 games and are currently sitting in second place in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of the Coyotes.
Anze Kopitar is red hot (8-14-22), proving why he is one of the best two-way centers in all of hockey. Jeff Carter is scoring goals with reckless abandon (17) and Mike Richards is quietly putting up another solid season (6-11-17). With Jonathan Quick finding his stride (5-2 in his last seven games) and certain Kings returning to health (Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell) sooner than later, the Kings will remain formidable in the defense of their title.
This is the first of three games against the Kings in the span of eight days. The next two will be back-to-back contests in Los Angeles Monday and Tuesday of next week. Obtaining at least one point (and hopefully two points) from this game will be huge for two reasons.
First, the Kings play the night before in Calgary and should begin to show the effects of playing in back-to-back games as the contest wears on. The Coyotes will have been off for two days and should get stronger as the game wears on.
Second, it will build momentum for the rest of the week as the Coyotes hit the road and head to St. Louis for their game on Thursday.
Mike Smith will have to be a lot better than he was last week and the Coyotes will have to get a total team performance to get points from this game.
The Coyotes will have to match the intensity and work rate of the Blues to get anything out of their game on Thursday night in St. Louis.
St. Louis proved why they are a difficult team to beat last week in Phoenix, as they drubbed the Coyotes 6-3. They are relentless, continually throwing line after line at you until you almost succumb to the pressure. Against the Coyotes, they were also opportunistic, taking advantage of the Coyotes' miscues and burying them in the back of the net.
There are a couple of good things to point out for a Coyotes team that will be entering enemy territory on Thursday. The Blues have been average at home this year (5-5-1), and this should give the Coyotes hope. They tend to play their best hockey on the road.
The Blues will be in the midst of an eight-game stretch against all Pacific Division opponents. The Pacific Division has been good this season and all five teams are in the playoff hunt, so this could lead to the Blues being worn down when the Coyotes arrive.
Finally, Phoenix has revenge on its mind from the beating the Blues put on it last week, and any extra motivation is a good thing for this team moving forward.
If the Coyotes can work hard at alleviating pressure in their own zone and work more down in the St. Louis defensive zone, then they have a chance at flipping the script against the Blues. You defeat a team like the Blues by beating them at their own game, one in which the Coyotes are adept at and have the personnel to succeed at.
Look for the Coyotes to use this plan against the Blues as they simplify their play on the road in the hopes of getting vital road points in the Midwest.
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been the catalyst to the Blue Jackets' recent winning streak.
I hate to be this blunt, but against the Blue Jackets, you must take two points if you are the Coyotes. They are not a very good hockey team, although they only sit four points out of a playoff spot as this is being written.
They have won four games in a row and although their schedule next week is brutal (Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago) before they play the Coyotes, Phoenix needs to be wary of the letdown that they may have playing the Jackets.
Vinny Prospal leads the way for the Jackets, as he leads the team in goals (nine) and points (14). The Jackets don't score much on the whole but during their recent run of wins, they have scored 11 goals in four games and won three of them in shootouts or overtime.
Most impressive as of late has been the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. In the last four games, Bobrovsky has started three and came on in relief of Steve Mason in the other. The numbers he put up over that four-game stretch are ridiculous. Bobrovsky went 4-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and a .980 save percentage with one shutout, over the Red Wings in his last game on Saturday.
His play has given the Blue Jackets some confidence and they are now turning that confidence into results, a dangerous and tricky combination for the Coyotes to deal with before heading to Los Angeles at the end of the week.
If the Coyotes can get points early in the week against L.A. and St. Louis, then this game could be the icing on the cake of a huge move up the standings at the end of the week. If they struggle early in the week, this game may become a crucial must-win game for the 'Yotes to stay in the thick of it down the stretch.