If the Canucks want to ensure they're still playing hockey come mid-April, they can't afford to make losing games to teams behind them in the standings - as they did on Thursday in their 2-1 loss to the Predators – a habit. They especially can't do that against a team that's breathing down their necks as their opponent tonight, the Coyotes, are. Phoenix comes into this game sitting just four points behind Vancouver in the tight Pacific Division standings but with a game in hand. A victory for the Coyotes tonight would clinch the season series in their favour giving them a potential upper-hand if a tie-breaking scenario were needed somewhere down the line.
The good news for the Canucks is the Coyotes aren't exactly firing on all cylinders lately. They have just four wins in their last 12 outings albeit one of those victories was a 1-0 triumph 10 days ago over Vancouver. The Coyotes are concluding a three-game Western Canada road swing tonight which began on Wednesday with a 3-2 loss to Calgary followed by a 4-3 win on Friday in Edmonton. There may be some fireworks in this game involving Coyotes' forward Martin Hanzal. Hanzal, as you may recall, forced three Canucks – Henrik Sedin, Mike Santorelli and David Booth - to leave the January 16 game between the two teams with injuries thanks to his questionable stick work. Soon-to-be Canadian Olympic teammates Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith are expected to duel in net tonight. Based on yesterday's practice lines, the Canucks are likely to dress seven defencemen tonight with Yannick Weber drawing back into the lineup.
Puck drop at 5 pm PT - Live on Sportsnet Pacific, The TEAM 1040, or online at teamradio.ca.
Keys to the Game
The power play contributes. This is starting to sound like a broken record, but the Canucks can't continue to squander away power play chances especially with the difficulties they have scoring on a normal basis. A PPG would have made a difference in their last outing against the Preds, and it certainly would have made a difference back on January 16 in Phoenix when they went 0-for-7 in what turned out to be a 1-0 loss.
Don't be preoccupied with Hanzal. The Canucks might want Hanzal to answer the bell for injuring three of their players last time out but they can't focus just on making him pay for his sins. They can be physical with him and, if the situation presents itself, get him to drop the gloves but if Hanzal decides to back down and turtle, then it's just better to move on.
Strike first, strike early. Opening the scoring has been critical so far in the season series as the team that has struck first has gone on to win all three games. The Coyotes, however, have had the clear edge when it comes to getting on the board early out-scoring Vancouver 2-0 in first periods. Considering the Canucks' woeful offence lately, getting an early lead might be all they need to sneak out of Rogers Arena with two points.
By the Numbers
Save percentage for Roberto Luongo in his last three starts since his return from injury (83 saves on 88 shots).
Save percentage for Mike Smith against the Canucks this season (89 saves on 94 shots).
Straight games the Canucks have been held to two-or-fewer goals (8 combined goals scored in those games).
Percent power play success rate for the Canucks against the Coyotes this season (2-for-12).
Percent power play success rate for the Coyotes over their last 10 games (9-for-34).
Percent penalty kill success rate for the Coyotes this season, near the bottom of the NHL.