Sellout crowd ready to rock Coyotes' home opener
Saturday, 10.10.2009 / 6:00 PM
BLUE JACKETS (2-1-0) at COYOTES (2-1-0)
Season series -- First of four meetings this season. The Coyotes swept the season series in 2008-09, with all four wins coming prior to Christmas. Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov went 3-0 with a 33-save shutout in the final meeting on Dec. 20, and 10 different Coyotes scored goals, including a pair for captain Shane Doan. For Columbus, Derick Brassard led the way with two goals.
Big story -- The sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena will be rocking Saturday night, and with good reason. First of all, the Coyotes are still here. That seemed to be in question at times during a long, drawn-out battle over the summer revolving around the franchise's future in Glendale, Ariz. Even better, the team is off to a solid start, having won two of three on the road -- including a Bryzgalov-led shutout win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
Blue Jackets -- The Columbus side of the story will get overshadowed on this night, but it's important to note the Jackets have also won two of their first three games. They edged Minnesota at home to open the season, then took two points in Vancouver from last season's Northwest Division winners. They were finally brought back down to earth by a Dany Heatley hat trick in a 6-3 loss to San Jose on Thursday.
"You can't play sloppy defense against a team like this or they will pick you apart," said captain Rick Nash, who scored a goal against the Sharks and has five points already this season.
Coyotes -- There hasn't been a postseason white-out since the team's last playoff berth in 2001-02, but the tradition will be revived for the home opener and the accompanying fan frenzy figures to give the Coyotes a tremendous lift. They've come together well under new coach Dave Tippett. Instead of folding under all the uncertainty surrounding the team, so far they seem to be finding motivation to make the best they can of the situation.
"We have that 'us against everybody' thing going," Doan said, "and we're trying to use it as much as we can."
Who's Hot -- Maybe the Blue Jackets need to get defenseman Rostislav Klesla to shoot the puck more -- he's got two goals already this season on just three shots, tying him for the team lead with Raffi Torres.
Bryzgalov will start the home opener, but right now both Coyotes goalies are getting the job done. Bryzgalov has a 1.50 goals-against average and .947 save percentage to go with his 2-0-0 record, while backup Jason LaBarbera suffered a 2-1 loss to Buffalo on Thursday but still sports a 2.03 GAA and .949 save percentage.
Injury report -- Columbus is hoping to have defenseman Mike Commodore back soon from a groin injury. Forward Jared Boll didn't play against San Jose after getting checked hard into the boards in the Vancouver game. For Phoenix, forward Taylor Pyatt continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury and could return within a week.
Stat pack -- Fifteen of the 19 skaters to dress for at least one game for Phoenix this season have a plus rating. Klesla, who recently signed a four-year contract extension with Columbus, averages a team-leading 32 shifts and 21:45 of ice time per game.
Puck drop -- Not many games in October carry a playoff-style atmosphere. Pittsburgh's home opener after winning the Stanley Cup was one. This will be another. Phoenix fans are set to rally behind their team. They're not thinking about 2010 or beyond -- their sole focus is spurring the Coyotes to a win Saturday night. The Jackets will have to play a smart, disciplined road game to thwart them.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com