February 23 2012 11:43AM
The Phoenix Coyotes may be the hottest team in the NHL, going 8-0-1 over their last nine games, helping them open up a four point playoff cushion. Now seventh in the conference, the Coyotes roll into Calgary for the first time this season as they get set for their second meeting this season with the Flames (7 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet 960). A win tonight for Calgary can launch Calgary back into a postseason spot.
Last night, the Flames saw the Colorado Avalanche gain on them with a seemingly easy victory over the LA Kings. The bad news saw the Avs move closer to Calgary, but on the bright side, the Kings didn't gain any on the Flames still sitting one point up on them. Calgary looks to put Tuesday's 6-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers behind them, and the way they played tha night, it's not as if that'll be impossible to do.
There's no official word as to the playing status of Curtis Glencross and Derek Smith this evening, but with both taking part in three straight practice, there's a good chance we could see both back in the lineup. Smith is about right on schedule in his recovery from an ankle injury while Glencross is slightly ahead of schedule after suffering a knee injury in mid-January. We'll give you lines with the assumption both are back in.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Mike Cammalleri-Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Lance Bouma
Krys Kolanos-Roman Horak-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Derek Smith
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
Those blueline pairings are just projected right now. When they change, we'll update on here. If Smith doesn't play, you can expect Anton Babchuk to return to the lineup after missing the last 13 games as a healthy scratch. Up front, it'll be Paul Byron slotting back in if Glencross doesn't play.
Well, the Coyotes have done what they always do...stay in the playoff race and make life difficult on seemingly every single opponent they play. The last game they played was a perfect example of what they're capable of. Down 3-0 in the first period to the aforementioned Kings, Phoenix made it a one goal game on two seperate occassions before scoring a tying powerplay goal late in the third period. Not surprisingly, the Coyotes would go on to win the game in a shootout.
It's the debut of Antoine Vermette in Phoeinx tonight, as the Coyotes acquired the two way center from Columbus in a deal yesterday. Vermette seems like a perfect fit for the team on the surface, as we know he has scored 20 goals in the past and we also know he's a pretty decent possession center who can play it at both ends. Again, at this point, these are just projected lines.
Ray Whitney-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan
Raffi Torres-Daymond Langkow-Mikkel Boedker
Paul Bissonnette-Boyd Gordon-Alexandre Bolduc
Keith Yandle-Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Michal Roszival
Michael Stone-Chris Summers
Phoenix is without three regular defensemen for the game this evening, with Derek Morris away tending to family issues. David Schlemko (foot surgery) and Rostislav Klesla (upper body) are also on the shelf, which is why you see the third pairing made up of less than household names. Stone is a former member of the Calgary Hitmen, however, playing four seasons with the team from 2006 through 2010. Up front, Brule may slide out of the lineup after taking a hit from Kyle Clifford on Wednesday.
Mike Smith gets the start in net riding the hottest run of his career. Defying all logic and what we all thought was going to be the case, Smith has proven to be a quality NHL starter this year. His .933 save percentage at even strength is more than enough to help the Yotes right now, and in fact, he's stolen a few games for his team this season.
Calgary won't catch Phoenix tonight, but they can move within two points of them for seventh in the conference with a win at home. On top of that, thanks to LA's loss last night, the Flames would be back in a playoff spot with a victory tonight. Fact is, no game is more important than any other, but these are the games fans get a little more jacked up for.