FGD: Parched in the Desert

In some ways, the Phoenix Coyotes are the anti-Flames: they have a terrible ownership position, lackluster fan support, a lousy budget and next to no expectations every year. And yet, despite those obstacles, the club manages to remain competitive under the steady guidance of Don Maloney and Dave Tippett, each year pressing for a playoff position with a motley crew of apparent has-beens and misfit toys.

The Flames, on the other hand, are well-heeled, supported by, strong fanatical fanbase and has, for the better part of two decades, managed to under perform expectations (with one or two notable exceptions).

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It’s somewhat unfair to compare the Coyotes to an Island of misfit toys. While their on-oing ownership uh, situation, means next to no budget, the team nevertheless boasts some pretty capable players. Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata have combined for years to form a very strong possession duo up front for Phoenix. Hanzal is the glue guy for the team up front, a strong, two-way center whose value far exceeds his counting stats each year.

On the back-end Keith Yandle tends to get the headlines because he puts up nice offensive numbers, but the true hero is probable youngster Oliver Ekmann Larsson. Although just 21-years old, he is already an NHL veteran and taking on the best the other team hs to offer every night. He already averages a team high 25:03 per game and is poised to be one of the game’s better blueliners for years to come.

The ‘Yotes are currently 8th in the west and definitely one of the teams the Flames will be jousting with for a playoff spot this year. A win tonight would go a long to way to making that possible.

The Line-up

After two periods of…well, not much, Bob Hartley mixed his lines up again and settled on these combinations in the third frame yesterday. It seemed to work too, as the Flames scored 3 goals and outchanced Dallas 7-1 in the process.

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  • Cammalleri – Tanguay – Iginla
  • Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak
  • Hudler – Horak – Cervenka
  • Comeau – Begin – Jackman
  • Giordano – Bouwmeester
  • Wideman – Brodie
  • Butler – Sarich
  • Taylor

Danny Taylor gets his first NHL start with the Flames, an honor well earned by his strong play over the last two seasons in the AHL. It’s impossible to know if he will be able to transfer that success to the big leagues, but it’s nice to see him at least get a chance.

Anton Babchuk pulls the short straw on the back-end, and for good reason…he’s just not an NHL caliber defender at even strength.

The new top line featuring both Cammalleri and Iginla makes sense, although that trio wasn’t really part of the Flames come-back in Texas yesterday. Im not sure they even generated a single chance at 5on5 in the third period, in fact. It’s better than Jarome skating with Comeau at least and will make even more sense if Hartley can somehow give them the high ground.

The Opposition

 Like the Flames, the Coyotes kind of have two or three second/third lines rather than one true offensive or power unit.

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  • Doan – Vermette – Boedker
  • Korpikoski – Hanzal – Sullivan
  • Moss – Gordon – Chipchura
  • Bissonette – Torres – Vrbata
  • Michalek – Ekman-Larsson
  • Klesla – Yandle
  • Summers – Rundblad
  • Smith

Hanzal’s line will be the "erasure" unit, so expect Tanguay and Iginla to see a lot of them. I don’t know what vrabat is doing on a line with Bissonette, but I doubt that lasts. He’s the teams leading scorer after all.

Goaltending has been part of the Coyotes secret sauce for getting into the post-season the last few years, but this season Mike Smith has been below mediocre with an .897 SV%. He’s probably better than that, although I don’t expect him to match his glowing numbers from last year either.

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Sum it up

The Coyotes and Flames come from very different places as organizations, but end up jammed together in the middle of the western conference nonetheless. The come from behind victory against the Stars was a good step forward last night, but the Flames will need more of the same in Phoenix tonight if they are to climb out of the basement.