The playoff-bound Vancouver Canucks host the Arizona Coyotes tonight in their second-to-last game of the regular season at Rogers Arena.
After a drama-filled start to the week, the Canucks are no doubt breathing a bit easier these days. With their thrilling 2-1 shootout win over the Kings on Monday, coupled with those same Kings falling on Tuesday in Edmonton, Vancouver officially punched their ticket back to the post-season following a one-year absence. That doesn't mean there's nothing left to fight for before the regular season ends, however. The Canucks, with a win tonight and loss by Calgary in their game against the Kings, would also clinch second place in the division and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Canucks welcomed special Make-A-Wish kid Alex, a natural goal-scorer, to yesterday's practice but missing from the session was another top goal-getter in Shawn Matthias. Sven Baertschi, who was a healthy scratch against the Kings, took Matthias' spot alongside Vey and Dorsett although Matthias is expected to be able to play tonight. Eddie Lack will likely get the call between the pipes for the Canucks. There have been some rumblings that Ryan Miller, who has been out since February 22, could make his return to the lineup and potentially dress as a backup.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific/Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
The Coyotes have known for a while that they're destined for the golf course but they're intent on going down fighting even though it might not show in their results. They played the role of spoiler on Saturday knocking off the Sharks 5-3 for their first regulation win in 28 outings and very nearly came away with an upset victory on Tuesday falling 3-2 to the Flames in a game they battled back twice to tie before eventually losing. The Coyotes' biggest problem is that their offence hasn't been able to bail them out when their defence has faltered. In their last 18 outings, they've scored three-or-more goals on just three occasions winning all three of those games. They have just one win during that stretch in a game where they've scored fewer than three, coincidentally coming against the Canucks via shootout back on March 3.
Even with the improved play of netminder Mike Smith these days, the Coyotes are still finding it tough to keep the puck out of their own net. They've surrendered three-or-more goals in 10 straight outings and have been out-shot in eight of those 10 contests. An absolutely dreadful penalty kill has played a huge part in that. They've allowed at least one power play goal in eight of their last 10 games giving up 11 PPGs on 37 times shorthanded during that stretch (70.3 percent kill rate). The Canucks, however, are one of the few teams the Coyotes have managed to stifle offensively. In the last two head-to-head meetings, Vancouver has tallied just five combined goals with one of them being of the empty-net variety. The one guy that the Coyotes haven't seemed to be able to shut down is Radim Vrbata, who has three points in the last two games versus his old club.
Keys to the Game
Don't wait until the end. In their last two games against the Coyotes, the Canucks have scored four combined third period goals. That's great, but maybe not ideal if it's accounting for 80% of your total offensive output. The Canucks should be aiming to put this game away early on much like they did the last time they hosted the Coyotes in December when they blew them out 7-1.
Don't change the game plan. It might be tempting to let loose a bit now that a playoff berth has been secured but the last thing the Canucks want to do is pick up any bad habits. The Coyotes always come out with an honest effort so the Canucks have to be prepared to grind out a win and not cut any corners.
Stick to the ice, not the sin bin. The Coyotes have spent a lot of time in the penalty box lately which isn't where they want to be as one of the league's worst PK teams. They especially don't want to be stuck in the box facing Vancouver. The Canucks are 4-for-8 on the PP in their two wins over the Coyotes this season, and 0-for-7 in their two losses to Arizona.
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Coyotes when scoring first (14-16-3), the only team with a losing record when doing so.
Straight season the Coyotes will miss the playoffs.
Straight games the Canucks have surrendered the opening goal.
Goals for the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson this season, one shy of establishing a new single-season franchise record by a defenceman. (Phil Housley – 1990.91 & 1991.92).
Win percentage in the season series for the team that opens the scoring.
Goals scored by the Coyotes this season. They will finish with their lowest total in franchise history excluding lockout-shortened seasons. (Previous full-season low: 188 – 2003.04).