Coyotes Preview: Road Warriors Looking to Improve Play Away from Home
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At the beginning of last week, the Phoenix Coyotes were sitting in eighth place as they looked to improve their playoff positioning against the Kings, Blues and Blue Jackets. With the latter two games on the road, if the 'Yotes picked up three points on the week, it would be seen as holding sternly onto that eighth position.
After a bludgeoning of the defending champion Los Angeles Kings at home (5-2), the Coyotes were thoroughly outplayed by a St. Louis Blues team (3-0) that, as of late, seems to thrive when they play the Desert Dogs.
The game in Columbus was the game that the Coyotes were hoping to capture to end the week on a positive note and although they played much better against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, they only came away with one point on the night after losing in a shootout to a red-hot Columbus squad (1-0).
Three points on the week, still tied for eighth in the Western Conference on points with San Jose, but sitting in ninth place based on the tiebreaker.
Status quo being upheld, the Coyotes finish their road trip this week with back-to-back games against Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday night at the Staples Center. The 'Yotes then return home for a Thursday night tilt against the Vancouver Canucks at Jobing.com Arena.
Nobody knows more so than the Coyotes how important this week is for their playoff hopes. Los Angeles sits in a tie on points for sixth place with Vancouver. Both are only two points ahead of the Coyotes and these games give Phoenix the chance to put some distance between themselves and the bottom rung of the playoff ladder.
At Los Angeles: Monday and Tuesday
Old friends get back together for a two-game set in Los Angeles early this week
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The Los Angeles Kings are the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Last week in Phoenix, the looked far from proper form if they are preparing to defend their title this season.
The Phoenix Coyotes might have played their most complete game of the season in making the defending champs look pretty ordinary at Jobing.com Arena on Tuesday. The Coyotes played fast and furiously as they took the play to Los Angeles, jumped on them early and then solidified their defense to come away with the 5-2 victory.
The Kings and Coyotes have split their two games this season and now the season series shifts to Los Angeles for back-to-back games both on the Kings' home ice. The Kings have been fantastic at home this season (10-2-1) and below average on the road (5-8-1). This should worry the Coyotes as they will have to put in a herculean effort to obtain points in Los Angeles this week.
Once you add the fact that the Kings are probably none too pleased about their performance in Phoenix this past week, expect Los Angeles to come out flying on Monday night. The Kings went 2-2 last week, but ended the week strong by beating San Jose handily on Saturday night (5-2) in a game they dominated from the opening puck drop.
If the Coyotes pick up two points in the first game on Monday, I would think Dave Tippett might start backup Jason LaBarbera in net on Tuesday. If the 'Yotes cannot pick up points on night one, expect starter Mike Smith to get both starts.
The interesting piece of this two-game set is who the Kings throw in net. Jonathan Quick was pulled halfway through Thursday's matchup against the Sharks for Jonathan Bernier and Bernier got the start for the Kings against the Sharks on Saturday. Jonathan Quick is the so-called starter, but he was beat badly by Phoenix on Tuesday. Bernier is having a better overall season (6-2-1, 1.94 GAA) than Quick (9-8-2, 2.69 GAA), although in fewer starts, and that puts Kings coach Darryl Sutter in a quandary.
The 'Yotes also need to focus on stopping Kings center Anze Kopitar. Over his career, there is not another team that Kopitar enjoys playing more than the Coyotes. He has scored more points against Phoenix than anyone else in his stellar career. In 41 games, the Slovenian center has scored 12 goals and amassed 29 assists for 41 points. A point-per-game track record must be taken into account and the Phoenix players need to find him when he is on the ice.
The key matchup for the Coyotes will be their power play versus the Kings penalty killers. The 'Yotes power play continues to slide (23rd in NHL) but will be needed against the league's 20th ranked penalty kill squad in Los Angeles. If the Coyotes can take advantage of a couple of gifted opportunities, then that will take some of the pressure off Mike Smith in this short two-game spell.
Versus Vancouver: Thursday
The Coyotes and Canucks will renew hostilites on Thursday in Phoenix
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After what will be two very hotly contested games in Los Angeles, there is no rest for the weary as the Vancouver Canucks come into Phoenix on Thursday evening in a game that could be instrumental in how this week is viewed by the team and its fans.
The Coyotes and Canucks have played once already this season, a 4-2 Coyotes victory in Vancouver on February 26th. Kyle Chipchura and Mikkel Boedker played the hero roles for the Coyotes that night as they both scored to give the Coyotes a much-needed road result.
Vancover will come into Phoenix limping as they have lost five of their last seven games. The injury bug has also hit the Canucks, especially at the center position as Ryan Kesler is out for the second time this season. The Canucks have also had a revolving door at center on their third line as they look to fill a hole in the trade market.
Although Vancouver has been down as of late, they still remain tied for first in the Northwest Division with 32 points. This week will also be pivotal for the Canucks as they play five times (Coyotes' third game of the week) and that will test any team and their ability to recoup after tough contests. Four of the five games are played in back-to-back situations (Monday-Tuesday, Saturday-Sunday). Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they draw the Canucks smack dab in the middle of the week after they will have had a day of rest.
The Sedin twins have killed the Coyotes over their careers and if Phoenix is going to get a positive result here, it begins with stopping the Swedish duo. Henrik has played 45 games against the Coyotes in his career and has scored nine goals with 28 assists for 37 points and a plus-15 rating. Daniel isn't as prolific, but still manages to accumulate his fair share against the Desert Dogs. In 44 games, he has scored nine goals and collected 25 assists for 34 points and a plus-10 rating.
If they can shut down the twin terrors and manage to put one past a solid netminder in Roberto Luongo, the Coyotes should come away with at least one point, if not both.
At the end of the week, the hope is that the Coyotes are celebrating the collection of four points
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It's a very tough week for the Coyotes and one that requires points to keep up in the race for the final playoff spot.
If the Coyotes can split in L.A., then that would be a good result. Anything more than two points should leave the team and fans ecstatic. Anything less and I would think the team would be very disappointed.
Depending on what happens in L.A., the result with Vancouver could be magnified or a bonus to end a very good week. If the Coyotes get less than two points in Los Angeles, the Canucks game becomes extremely important. If the Coyotes come out with more than two points from Los Angeles, this game takes on a lesser meaning, but if they could win it as well, it would vault them up the standings.
Here is how I think it will break down. I think the Coyotes will rise to the occasion and get four points out of this week.
Monday: Kings beat Coyotes 3-1
Tuesday: Coyotes beat Kings 3-2 in OT/SO
Thursday: Coyotes beat Canucks 4-3 in OT/SO