GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Much of the Phoenix Coyotes' early-season success can be traced to a strong effort from the defense. But the depth of the blue line is being tested as two main cogs will be on the sidelines when Phoenix plays host to the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Derek Morris (lower body) is expected to miss his fifth straight game, and Zbynek Michalek was injured in the 5-4 shootout loss against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and won't play Saturday. The Coyotes recalled rookie Connor Murphy from Portland of the American Hockey League on Friday and he is expected to make his NHL debut against the Lightning.
Even with the injuries, the Phoenix defense continues to produce. Michael Stone had the first two-goal game of his career against the Blackhawks; the Coyotes collected three of four points in tough road stops against the St. Louis Blues and Chicago.
The Tampa Bay defense will be stronger Saturday. Sami Salo was injured in a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday (the game that cost the Lightning leading scorer Steven Stamkos) and skated Saturday morning. Lightning coach Jon Cooper expects Salo to play.
The Coyotes are 6-1-1 against the Eastern Conference and are one of two NHL teams, along with the Anaheim Ducks, without a regulation loss at home (8-0-1). Tampa Bay is a perfect 7-0-0 against the Western Conference and blitzed Anaheim 5-1 on Thursday in their second game following the devastating leg injury to Stamkos.
Mike Smith will start in goal for the 19th time in Phoenix's 21 games. 6-foot-4 Smith will go up against 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop in a battle between two of the NHL's tallest goalies. Smith has stopped an NHL-high 557 shots this season, and Bishop is red hot, recording a 6-0-0 record in November with a 1.30 goals-against average and .956 save percentage
Here are the projected lineups for the Lightning and Coyotes on Saturday: