PHOENIX COYOTES: 30-24-11 (71 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 24-33-7 (55 PTS.)
GAME DAY SONG: Stayin’ Alive, by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
The Phoenix Coyotes make a rare appearance at the BB & T Center tonight to faceoff against the Florida Panthers, who’ll be looking to turn things around after Sunday’s loss to the Boston Bruins. This will be the first matchup of the season between the two clubs, with the Panthers making a visit to Glendale later this month as part of a four game western road swing.
The Coyotes are a well coached team that plays hard every night. Head coach Dave Tippett is in his 5th season as the bench boss, and always ices a team that is tough to play against for one very specific reason. His players stick to the system. Likely because it not only works, but because they enjoy playing for him. Tippett who previously coached the Dallas Stars has missed the playoffs only twice in his 10 seasons as head coach, has taken each team to the conference finals, indicating he knows a little bit about winning.
Phoenix plays well at all ends of the ice, and will make the Panthers work for everything they get. Offensively the Coyotes have three players tied with 43 points a piece. Forwards Mike Ribeiro, Radim Vrbata and defenceman Keith Yandle. Watchout also for long time captain Shane Doan as well as Antoine Vermette who has 22 goals this season. The Coyotes have always had balanced scoring and spread the goals around, as this season is no different. Seven players have scored in double figures, with three more approaching their 10th goals of the season (Rob Klinkhammer, Michael Stone and Lauri Korpikoski). To help add some grit at the forward position, the Coyotes added forward Martin Erat at the trade deadline. Erat was previously with the Washington Capitals and had scored only once in 52 games this season, and had asked for a trade back in November.
Mike Smith who’s career has done an about face since coming to Phoenix (largely because of Tippett) is the number one netminder with former San Jose Shark Thomas Greiss as his backup. Smith covers alot of net with his height, and is known to be feisty at times as reflected by his 14 penalty minutes this season. He has a .913 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA this season, and has posted three shutouts. Phoenix is fighting for a wild card berth at the moment, and this game and these two points are extremely important to them. They are fresh off a 4-3 victory last night over the Tampa Bay Lightning in one of those circus shootout thingys.
The Florida Panthers need a bounce back game after a wild finish against the Bruins on Sunday. There was a defensive collapse in the third period to go along with some ill-timed penalties which put the Panthers in a hole that they weren’t able to dig themselves out of. Boston has a habit of forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them, which they did Sunday. The game was tied at one till midway through the third period, and that’s when things began to fall apart for the Panthers.
Guilty of not playing a full 6o minutes in many of their games this season, the loss to Boston was a measuring stick for the Panthers. While they are now apparently on the road to getting better, they still have some work to do. Their 5 on5 play for most of the season has been fairly consistent, but their special teams have been atrocious, and that’s where the trouble lies. In the meantime, as they look to improve those areas, having Roberto Luongo back in goal is a positive step. This article which appeared on the TSN website yesterday gives you a deeper look into the rebuild that Dale Tallon is working hard on.
Vincent Trocheck has been excellent in the two games he’s played so far. He’s been strong on faceoffs, has created scoring chances, and is averaging 20 minutes of ice time. Brandon Pirri who came over from the Chicago Blackhawks has appeared in three games, is looking for his first points, but also has had some moments where we should be encouraged by his play. The plan is to get these two players a long look and see how they’ll fit into the picture going forward.
Some bad news however, as it appears that defencemen Erik Gudbranson could be out for a while after an awkward collision in Sunday’s game. Gudbranson left the arena on crutches, and as I prepare this article, I’m not aware of the severity of the injury. Needless to say, Gudbransons’s toughness will be missed no matter how long he’s out for.
The Panthers will just have to regroup and put together an effort comparable to the one against Buffalo on Friday. No need to rehash the same old story line, so I won’t. Except for one small detail. The overall toughness needs to improve as too many times the opposition seems to be able to go to the net and remain there untouched. It’s imperative that this area of their game improve.
Florida will need to play another mistake free game, as the Coyotes don’t give up much, and don’t ever sit back. Smith can get frustrated especially with traffic in front of him, and with a lot of rubber flying his way. In addition, if you don’t watch too many Coyote’s games, he has a habit of acting as you can see here.
* Jimmy Hayes has 4 points in 4 games.
* Sean Bergenheim has 5 points in 6 games.
* Shane Doan has 6 points in 6 games.
COLD AS ICE:
* Tomas Fleischmann has 0 points in 5 games.
* David Moss has 0 points in 11 games.
I’d also like to take a moment here and welcome our newest addition to Panther Parkway, Mike Obrand. You’ll enjoy his writing and knowledge of the game. Plus he’s a nice guy as well.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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