|If the Phoenix Coyotes are known for one thing, it’s their comfort level and success in low-scoring games. They are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and they can thank head coach Dave Tippett for that, as he brought his stout checking structure over from the Dallas Stars in September of 2009. Since being hired as the Coyotes bench boss, he has helped transform a struggling franchise into a perennial playoff contender despite the uncertainty that seems to be constantly surrounding the organization. |
One constant for the Coyotes is their captain, Shane Doan. He’s a lifelong member of the Coyotes, too: Doan was drafted with the first-round pick of the old Winnipeg Jets in 1995, shortly before moving to the desert. Now in his 16th NHL season, Doan made headlines last week when he recorded his first career hat trick against the New York Islanders in his 1,161st game. His 12 goals and 25 points so far this season put him third on the club’s scoring chart, 10 points behind Radim Vrbata.
At forward, the Coyotes are top-heavy in scoring and led by former Blue Jackets winger Ray Whitney. The soon-to-be 40-year-old signed a two-year contract with Phoenix two summers ago and is still productive in his second decade of NHL service. The man known as “The Wizard” has accumulated at least 50 points in six consecutive seasons and looks like he could play five more years at this level.
Another familiar face for Blue Jackets fans is Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who was Columbus’ first draft pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Moved to Phoenix at last year’s trade deadline, Klesla has settled in to Tippett’s system and is a minutes-eater on the Coyotes’ blue line.
When Ilya Bryzgalov departed via unrestricted free agency last summer, NHL pundits wondered if the Coyotes could keep pace in the competitive Western Conference. They signed Mike Smith to replace their old Russian netminder, and he’s stepped right into the No. 1 role. He has 16 of the Coyotes’ 20 wins so far this season, but Jason LaBarbera is the likely start tonight for Phoenix.
| || || |
|Nash (14) ||Vrbata (21) |
|Prospal (21) ||Whitney (22) |
|Prospal (30) ||Whitney (36) |
|Dorsett (103) ||Torres (33) |
|MacKenzie (+7) ||Vrbata, Whitney (+11) |
|Sanford (6-9-3) |
|Smith (16-11-6) |
|Sanford (2.57) ||Smith (2.36) |
|Sanford (.911) ||Smith (.925) || |
|• The Blue Jackets have gone 2-9-1 their last 12 games after going 6-4-2 their previous 12 games. The club also is starting a stretch where it will play seven games in the span of 12 days, including a pair of back-to-back games, prior to the All-Star Break. |
• R.J. Umberger’s franchise record streak of 288-consecutive games played will come to an end tonight. He is out indefinitely after suffering an upper body injury Jan. 8 at Anaheim. The streak is 45 games better than Jason Chimera’s streak of 243 games set Oct. 9, 2005-Apr. 5, 2008.
• Tonight marks first of four meetings overall and first of two meetings at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Coyotes. Columbus is 13-21-6 all-time against Phoenix, including an 8-10-2 mark at Nationwide Arena. The home team has won four of the last five meetings between the teams after the road team won five of the previous six outings.
• Rick Nash has scored 10 goals in the last 23 games after being held to four goals the first 19 games of the season. He has collected 10-7-17 the last 24 games after being held to 1-3-4 the previous 10 games. Nash leads the team in goals and has 165 shots, ranking second in the NHL.