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Game Preview: Jackets look to build, get first home win on Saturday night

by Katie Foglia / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Arizona Coyotes (9-6-1) played the Edmonton Oilers at home on Thursday before setting off for Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets.

The Columbus game marks the first of a four-game road trip for the Coyotes, who play the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets before returning home to Glendale. Being on the road so far this season has been good news for the Coyotes, one of the league's surprise clubs in the early going.

Arizona has won three of its games at Gila River Arena, and won the other six games on the road for a .722 win percentage.

The Coyotes, who haven’t qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the past three seasons, are hopefuly that head coach Dave Tippett can end that drought with a young, fast and exciting team that's got people around the NHL talking.

First-round pick Max Domi and trade acquisition Anthony Duclair (who came over from the New York Rangers in the Keith Yandle trade) have garnered most of the attention so far, adding a dynamic element to Arizona's solid, dependable group of forwards. More of a defensive team in the past, these Coyotes aren't afraid to get up the ice and into the attack.

Coyotes GM Don Maloney also acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, reliable center Boyd Gordon (a former Coyote), Steve Downie and Brad Richardson in the summer, and also welcomed back defenseman Zbynek Michalejk, traded to St. Louis last spring.

There's been a lot of change for the Coyotes, but one of the constants is goaltender Mike Smith. The 33-year-old hasn't had one of his better starts stastically, but he's giving his young team a chance to win every night.

It was on a Tuesday night in February that these two teams last faced off against each other in Nationwide Arena.

Arizona’s Lucas Lessio put the visiting team on the board first and, despite a second period power play goal from former James Wisniewski, Columbus wasn’t able to pull ahead.

The Jackets lost 4-1 to the Coyotes, who were playing well, and didn’t help themselves — turning the puck over and unable to sustain any offensive zone time.

In a tie game early in the second period, the Blue Jackets gave Arizona an opportunity to forge ahead. Two back-to-back penalties by Columbus resulted in two Coyotes power play goals, and that 1-1 tie was quickly a 3-1 lead for the visitors, who added a goal in the third period to seal the deal.

Martin Hanzal is the player to watch in this matchup. So far this season, the big rangy center has scored two goals and added 13 assists in 13 games, tying him with Domi for the team's scoring lead (15 points).

Hanzal notched his first two goals of the season on Nov. 10 in Los Angeles against the Kings, marking his first goals since Jan. 25, 2015. Hanzal missed 45 games last season due to injuries, and is looking to make up for lost time with a hot start to the new season.

A native of the Czech Republic, Hanzal was selected in the first round (17th overall) of the 2005 NHL Draft. Now, the 28-year-old is playing in his ninth NHL season, all spent with the Coyotes. Hanzal has tallied 90 goals and 171 assists for a total of 261 career NHL points, adding four goals and eight assists in 23 NHL career playoff games.

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