With Trading Deadline Looming, Phoenix Coyotes Seek Help at the Blue Line
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While the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are making the most noise as the NHL trading deadline nears, the Phoenix Coyotes may not be far behind.
At this point, the Coyotes appear well-positioned to make a serious playoff run, but they could use some help on the blue line.
A series of injuries limited the play of Ed Jovanovski in recent weeks, and now the veteran defenseman is out for an extended period after undergoing successful surgery Feb. 18 to repair an orbital bone fracture.
Jovanovski, whom the Coyotes placed on the injured reserve list, collided with Atlanta's Patrice Cormier Feb. 17 in the final seconds of the second period and left the ice immediately.
That essentially leaves Phoenix with five defensemen for the stretch drive. To make matters worse, veteran Adrian Aucoin missed the game against Atlanta with a lower back injury.
Jovanovski and Derek Morris are considered the two best "defensive" defensemen for Phoenix, and Jovanovski's absence means a tighter checking game.
Prior to the Atlanta contest, Jovanovski missed nine of the previous 14 games, and now the Coyotes are forced to proceed without the 34-year-old.
Coach Dave Tippett has two rookies in the rotation, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Schlemko. Both lack experience, and Schlemko has been out with a lower back injury for over a month. He has not played since Jan. 17 against San Jose, and recently rehabbed at AHL San Antonio. Schlemko was recalled from the minors to fill in for Jovanovski.
If the Coyotes are pursuing help at the blue line, several high-profile players have already been moved.
Last week, the Leafs sent veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle to the Bruins, while St. Louis dealt a pair of blue liners. The first to go was captain Eric Brewer, who was traded to Tampa Bay, and then the Blues sent Erik Johnson, a former No. 1 overall pick, to Colorado.
Also, the Hurricanes dealt defenseman Ian White to San Jose while the Leafs traded another defenseman, Francois Beauchemin, to Anaheim.
Earlier this season, the Coyotes picked up veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival from the New York Rangers, and now general manager Don Maloney is scrambling to pinpoint additional help on the blue line.
The trading deadline is Monday Feb. 28.
With a 3-2 win at Nashville Feb. 19, the Coyotes equaled their season high of seven straight wins. That contest was the first of a critical five-game road trip that will likely foreshadow the character of the Coyotes' playoff run.
The road show continues Feb. 22 against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, a venue traditionally hostile to visiting teams.
Immediately after that game, the Coyotes jump on a plane and head to central Florida for a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning the next night. The trip continues with games in Columbus and Chicago before the team returns home to face Dallas March 1.
"This is a very important road trip," Tippett said just before it began. "Philadelphia and Tampa are back-to-back games in their buildings and that will be a challenge. We have to continue to gain momentum for the stretch drive."
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