As a franchise, the Phoneix Coyotes are totally lost. The club is operated by the NHL for lack of better ownership options. The town of Glendale has no plan to improve the situation aside from "pour more local taxes into the scheme and hope". The club plays in front of a mostly empty building during every home game.
Ironically, the team on the ice is the best it’s been in a very long time. Under the guidance of Don Maloney and Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have defied the odds and been consistently competitive in the West. It’s a fairly remarkable feat given their various, not insignificant challenges, including a restricted budget and the reputation as a rapidly dying hockey market.
The Flames, on the other hand, are one of the strongest organizations in the league – stable, committed ownership, big gate receipts, corporate buy-in and established, grassroots support. Of course, the club on the ice isn’t quite as successful currently and is poised to start wandering the desert in earnest (recent dash for the post-season notwithstanding), if it hasn’t begun already.
Both teams seem to be dancing on a knifes edge, albeit in different ways – while the Coyotes try to stave off financial oblivion, the Flames battle ceaslessly to avoid tumbling down the western standings and into full rebuild territory.
While apparently a lot of injured guys are skating – including Stempniak, Jackman and Bouma – there’s no indication they will be in tonight. Which means at least one more contest for Sven Baertschi.
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Baertschi – Nemisz – Kostopolous
Comeau – Horak – Desbiens
Hannan – Giordano
Sarich – Bouwmeester
Smith – Babchuk
Comeau subs back in for Kolanos who was sent down to the farm yesterday. The bottom-end hasn’t been terrible despite being staffed with AHLers and kids. That said, Sutter has mostly made sure to stick to his NHLers as much as possible during this on-going plague of injuries.
Babchuk, on the other hand, looks as bad I remember at even strength. TJ Brodie is apparently getting healthier but there’s no timetable for his return.
Kipper goes in net tonight.
The Coyotes defeated the Canucks last night despite missing two-thirds of their top unit. Martin Hanzal has been out for awhile and Radim Vrbata is day-to-day with the flu. Here are the combos they ran versus the Canucks
Whitney – Vermette – Brule
Torres – Langkow – Doan
Korpikoski – Gordon – Pyatt
Bissonette – Pouliot – Boedker
Ekman-Larsson – Klesla
Yandle – Rozsival
Schelmko – Aucoin
Vrbata is a game time decision. Expect him to bump Brule off of the top line if he returns. Aucoin only played about 8 minutes at ES last night and might be out for this evening. If so, ex-Hitman Mike Stone might make his way back into the line-up. Derek Morris has also been hurt for an extended period of time, but is close to returning. If he can go, expect him to take Aucoin’s place.
One guy who has very quietly become a good player this year is Oliver Ekman-Larrson. The former sixth overall pick has slowly taken over top pairing duties for the Coyotes, in part due to some consistent injury problems for Phoenix on the back-end. He’s now a fixture on both special teams and his ice time has crested 24 minutes in each of the last four contests. Not bad for a 20 year old sophomore.
Mike Smith played last night in Vancouver, but there’s a good chance he’ll go again tonight.
Phoenix is one of the five teams in the mix for the final two playoff spots in the WC. They are currently in 7th place with 81 points, three up on the Flames, Sharks and Kings who sit 9th-11th respectively. A win for the Coyotes gives them much needed breathing space. A win for the Flames means keeping pace.
Like it or not, the rest of the season is going to involve a lot of anxious glances at the out-of-town scoreboard. This evening the San Jose Sharks play Nashville and the Colorado Avalanche face New Jersey. A win by either means the Flames will remain outside of the playoff picture come tomorrow morning no matter what they do versus Phoenix. Calgary can claim 8th, however, if they win and both the Sharks and Avalanches fall short.