GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes have been eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention and the San Jose Sharks are locked into postseason position. That will make for plenty of lineup flexibility as the Coyotes open a season-ending two-game homestand against the Sharks Saturday.
The Coyotes sat and watched the Dallas Stars eliminate them Friday with a 3-0 win against the St. Louis Blues. Phoenix has lost six straight games (0-3-3) including a 2-0 loss Thursday against the Nashville Predators that cost the Coyotes control of their destiny.
"You've got to go out there, play games and play well. We're going to put some young players in and give them some experience, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "It's very disappointing, the situation that we're in. We're going to have to go out there and try to get better.
The changes will begin in goal. Top prospect Mark Visentin will make his NHL debut Saturday. He has been serving as the backup to Thomas Greiss since starter Mike Smith went down with a knee injury Mar. 24. Tippett said that Smith, who has been practicing with the aid of a knee brace in hopes of returning, is now done for the season.
"He's got a great attitude, he works hard and we're going to give him a chance to play tonight," Tippett said of Visentin. "He's prepared well he's had a lot of practice time with (goalie coach Sean Burke) and I think he'll go on there and play well for us."
The loss of Smith played a role in Phoenix's collapse down the stretch, but Phoenix's offense, particularly the forwards, was the obvious problem. The Coyotes lost to three non-playoff teams – the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and the Predators – and scored a total of three goals in those games. During this six-game slide, the Coyotes have scored a total of seven goals.
"The offense really dried up these last few weeks, which is really concerning," Tippett said. "You have to earn the right to be the playoff team. Dallas got the job done and we just didn't."
The Coyotes will be without center Martin Hanzal, who will sit out his third straight game. Tippett said he might play in the season finale Sunday against Dallas.