The Phoenix Coyotes enter 2013 with a new ownership group, a new outlook and playoff aspirations.
For the first time in recent memory, the team will play a season without wondering if it will be their last in the desert.
The 2013 season will be a trying one for the Coyotes as they try to regain the momentum they had two years ago when they went all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The shortened season last year hurt Phoenix as they got off to a slow start and could never recover.
They missed the playoffs by a mere four points.
The Coyotes need to make a better start in 2013 if they want to return to the postseason. They will also need to earn two points and a win in these must-watch games if they want a chance at Lord Stanley's Cup.
October 3 vs. New York Rangers
This matchup against the Rangers marks the beginning of the Coyotes' 2013 season.
Effectively, the game will serve as the first time fans can see the newly acquired Mike Ribeiro, and it will also be the first time they can see what kind of team the Coyotes will field in 2013.
This should serve as a litmus test for how good the Coyotes will be next year because the Rangers are a team searching for momentum and identity after firing their coach in the offseason.
The Coyotes and Rangers will both need a win to start their seasons strong but also to begin constructing their identity.
Will the Coyotes be a grinding team that squeaks out victories or a high-powered, quick team that makes plays and wins easily?
This game won't answer all the questions surrounding the Coyotes, but it will start to provide a vision for the team.
October 29 vs. Los Angeles Kings
This will be the Coyotes fourth game in seven days and a key encounter against a division rival.
The team is bound to be tired and will need to grind out a victory over a tough and gritty Kings team.
The Coyotes were 2-3 against the Kings last season, and if they want to have a chance to win the Pacific Division like they did in 2011 they really need to reverse that.
This early season matchup will likely set the tone for how the rivalry will play out over the rest of the year. Last season, the Kings beat the Coyotes 4-2 in their first matchup. The loss dropped the Coyotes to 1-4 to start the year.
A win would have reversed their momentum and perhaps could have changed the course of their season.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Coyotes will need to protect home ice and defeat this division rival to begin 2013 in a different manner.
November 14 @ Chicago Blackhawks
The Coyotes' mid-November meeting with the Blackhawks will mark the first time the Coyotes play the defending champions.
Not only did Chicago win the Stanley Cup but they also finished the year second in goals per game, first in goals against and with the third best penalty kill in the league.
Needless to say, this will be the biggest game for the Coyotes at this point in the season, and it comes on the road.
If ever there was a great test for the Coyotes in all facets of the game, this is it.
The defense will be tested by one of the best offenses in the NHL, while the Coyotes' offense will go up against the league's stingiest defense.
Undeniably, Phoenix will need to be on top of their game if they want to steal a win in Chicago.
January 2 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Coyotes will start the New Year with a five-game home stand beginning with their game against the Blue Jackets—a new and improved Blue Jackets team at that.
A win over Nathan Horton, Marian Gaborik and the rest of the Blue Jackets could be just the spark the Coyotes need to kick off the New Year in style.
All the games on this home stretch, minus Calgary, are against potential playoff teams, and it would be huge for the Coyotes to take advantage of home ice and put together a winning streak.
March 13 @ Boston Bruins
This matchup will conclude a cluttered road trip that sees the Coyotes play four games in six days.
Boston will be an elite team in the Eastern Conference again next year and by this point in the season the Coyotes will either be firmly in playoff contention, looking towards the offseason or fighting for their playoff life.
The Bruins came just two wins short of hoisting the Stanley Cup last season and have their eyes set on returning to the finals again in 2013. If the Coyotes expect to be a playoff team with a chance of winning the cup, they will need to beat high quality teams like the Bruins.
The Coyotes will also need to overcome adversity, which at this point in the season is sure to have already happened to an extent.
Ending a long road trip with a win in Boston would do wonders for the Coyotes confidence and moral heading down the stretch.
March 25 @ Pittsburgh Penguins
As the Coyotes enter the final few weeks of the season, their matchup against the Penguins will either be for pride or major playoff implications.
If all goes to plan, it will involve playoff implications.
It will also be a chance for the Coyotes to tune up for a potential postseason run and a stretch run as the Penguins will again be one of the best teams in the league next season.
The Coyotes will get tested in all forms and will have the opportunity to prepare for a brutal final stretch of the season.
Beating the Penguins will require the Coyotes to be at the top of their game mentally and physically.
If the Coyotes can do just that and beat the Penguins, they should have a tough playoff mentality entering the home stretch of the year.
Unquestionably, they will need that as their final games are against some very tough opponents.
All stats unless otherwise indicated come from ESPN.com
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