Who: Phoenix Coyotes (16-8-5)
When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (13-7-0), PHO – Mike Smith (13-6-5)
The Dangermen: The last time these two teams met, Martin Hanzal was the hottest thing in the desert. He’s cooled off a bit, though he is still tied for third on the team in points with 22 and goals with eight.
Since then, Mike Ribeiro has been one of the torch-bearers, with 11 points in his last 11 games. He’s tied with Hanzal and has been a welcome addition to a team that normally struggles to score (they’re currently fifth at 3.10 goals-per-game). Radim Vrbata also continues to defy expectations with a team-high 24 points through 27 games so far.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they’ll be down captain and goal-leader Shan Doan. He’s apparently out with the flu, but don’t be surprised if he’s a late addition to the lineup. His dozen goals will certainly be welcomed back as will his heralded leadership.
The Defenders: Defensively, the Coyotes haven’t been their historically stingy selves. They currently sit at 25th in the league in goals against per game. Still, they are a very big reason the offense is clicking the way it is.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson will continue to get Norris Trophy talk so long as he keeps playing great defense and putting up points at the pace he is (19 so far). Keith Yandle isn’t as highly regarded, but he can keep pace with the youngster offensively, as evidenced by his team-leading 16 assists.
The Coyotes will be without Derek Morris and his 13 points; his veteran presence can’t be underestimated. Michael Stone is surprising many this season with a whopping seven goals already, including one the last time these two met. The Coyotes aren’t going to shut you down on a nightly basis, but with a little help from the back end, they are fully capable of lighting anyone up.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: Mike Smith has a strong record at 13-6-5, but his numbers have been down this year (3.01 GAA, .911 save percentage). He’s not the same goaltender capable of stealing a game or two for a stingy team. He can be beaten and beaten often.
Still, he’s lightning quick and capable of making a few big saves for the Coyotes. If they can get out to an early lead, beating Smith will become a tall task for the struggling Avalanche.
Get to him early, pepper him with shots often and try to get as much traffic in front of him as humanly possible.
How the Avs match up: The Coyotes are struggling of late and haven’t been great away from the desert (7-6-3 on the road). They’ve dropped their last two and struggled without their captain in the lineup. If he misses tonight, it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds in his absence.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, are coming off a less-than-stellar road trip down their top defensive defenseman in Jan Hejda. Nate Guenin will likely slide in next to Erik Johnson on the top pairing as the team’s “shut down” defender. He may not have the hold the fort long as it’s speculation that Hejda could be back as soon as Saturday.
Both teams can score and, though the Avs play a little better defense, are vulnerable defensively. Getting a healthy, on-his-game Varlamov would be the deciding factor for the Avalanche. Ideally, they’ll come out fired up for this one after dropping two of three on their road trip.
Key Matchup: Forwards vs Scoring Defense
Cower in fear if: Mike Smith is Mike Smith of two/three years ago.
Shane Doan suits up and is a terror in front of the net.
Guenin struggles to fill the skates of Hejda on the defensive end.
Laugh maniacally if: Landy continues his point streak with a huge goal.
Matt Duchene reprises his MVP-like performance of the first 20 or so games.
The Avalanche have a relentless effort from the start, pressing the Coyotes 24/7.
Silly predictions: Doan suits up, picks up a point; Varly stops 30 shots; So does Mike Smith; Dutchy grabs a goal late, getting the monkey off his back; Guenin responds to the impromptu promotion with a strong physical game.
Final: 4-2 Avalanche
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