The Dallas Stars managed to extract a point from the Penguins last night before falling in a shoot-out. That puts the Texans 4 points ahead of the Flames for the 8th spot with just 19 games remaining in the regular season. The Flames can shrink that ever growing deficit by winning in Phoenix tonight. Problem is, they’re facing the hottest team in the entire NHL.
The Coyotes were undefeated in regulation in the month of February, causing them to rocket up the charts and extricate themselves from the ever crowded 8th-placed fray in the West. Obviously the Coyotes aren’t 11-0-1 good, but it shows what a team can do with a .950 run from their goaltender when they aren’t routinely outshot and outchanced every night. Like the Flames and Kipper, Mike Smith isn’t going to stop everything forever so at some point the Coyotes are going to fall back down to earth a little bit. Flames have to hope that starts this evening.
After months and months on the shelf, David Moss is set to return to the active roster tonight. He’ll rejoin Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross in what has been a pretty effective unit in the past.
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Kostopolous – Stajan – Comeau
Bouma – Horak – Jackman
Giordano – Hannan
Smith – Bouwmeester
Brodie – Sarich
With the OMG reunited, it may mean a shift in the way Sutter deploys his forward units. Since January, Sutter has mostly concentrated on a PvP match-up, skating Iginla and Jokinen almost exclusively against the other team’s best players. That was okay when the line was shooting lights, but when the percentages regressed in February things got a lot uglier. With this new configuration, it’s probable Sutter will try to give more of the tough minutes to Jokinen and company, freeing up the newly formed Cammaleri first line to be concentrate a lot more on offense.
On the back-end, Derek Smith has taken the fallen Chris Butler’s place and as a result Sutter has quietly split even strength ice time and tougher match-ups between the Boumweester and Giordano duos. It hasn’t gone over terribly well, but the coaches options are limited on the back-end at this point.
Kipper starts tonight, paving the way for Irving to get the start in Anaheim tomorrow, After being invincible for the better part of two months, Kiprusoff has looked entirely mortal recently which is a big part of the four game losing streak. Of course, no goalie can sustain a .950 save percentage indefinitely, so it’s fair for the guy to start looking to his team mates for some help at this point.
It’s amazing what Dave Tippett and Don Maloney have been able to accomplish given the various restraints in the desert. The Coyotes roster never evokes much in the way of fear, but there’s lots of capable players providing really good value, often for not a lot of money.
Whitney – Hanzal – Vrbata
Boedker- Vermette – Doan
Korpikoski – Gordon – Pyatt
Torres – Langkow – Bissonette
Yandle – Aucoin
Rozsival – Ekman-Larsson
Summers – Stone
39-year old Ryan Whitney just keeps on trucking. He leads the Coyotes in scoring with 58-points in 63 games played. Dude is amazing. For context, Jarome Iginla has 48-points this year.
Whitney line mate Radim Vrbata is having a career year too with 30-goals and 53-points thus far. A couple of things have helped in that regard: a career best 16.4% shooting percentage and the fact that Tippett has gotten away from burying Hanzal and Vrbata with defensive zone starts this year. Instead, coach has decided to give the Coyotes first line the high ground with the most offensive zone draws of any forward line on the club. They still play the big boys, of course, but aren’t tasked with starting in their own end anymore.
On the back-end, The Coyotes have some regulars on the sidelines, including Derek Morris and Rusty Klesla. The Stone-Summers pairing some really limited ice time versus the Canucks last game, so expect a lot of both Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson who both saw north of 25 minutes against Vancouver.
Mike Smith naturally gets the start tonight. The tale of his resurgence in Phoenix coupled with the downfall pf Bryzgalov in Philly is another data point in the theory that paying big, long-term dollars for goaltending is bloody risky. And/or projecting goaltender performance is incredibly difficult…
The Coyotes are riding a wave right now while the Flames are crashing back into the surf after a several weeks of doing the same. Calgary will continue to struggle unless they can start spending more time in the offensive end of the ice, something that may just improve with Glencross and Moss both healthy and re-united. No regular, forward duo up front has driven possession as well as those two since they were combined back in 2008-09.
The Flames don’t have a lot time to right the ship, however – falling any further back in the race even with even 5 weeks remaining will likely seal their fate for good. If a playoff push is to meaningful, a win tonight is a must.