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Game #66 Preview: Arizona vs. Florida

Darcy Kuemper returns to action for first game since December 19, Coyotes continue home stand against Panthers

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Game Preview

GAME #66: ARIZONA (31-26-8) vs. FLORIDA (32-24-6)

7:00 PM MST - Gila River Arena | Glendale, AZ

TV: Fox Sports Arizona (Matt McConnell, Tyson Nash, Todd Walsh, Jody Jackson)

Radio: Fox Sports 910 AM Phoenix (Bob Heethuis, Paul Bissonnette)

Referees: Dan O'Rourke #9, Kyle Rehman #10

Linesmen: Pierre Racicot #65, Jonny Murray #95

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ARIZONA VS. FLORIDA

The Coyotes continue their three-game home stand tonight as they host the Florida Panthers at Gila River Arena, marking the teams' second and final regular season meeting.

Fueled by their highest offensive output of the season on Saturday, the Coyotes are transitioning off of a 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, a victory that jolted the team back into a wild card playoff position.

"I liked the response. Tampa's one of the best teams in the league, so when they got those two goals, it could've gone either way," head coach Rick Tocchet said when asked what stood out to him from Saturday's victory. "That response goal by Richie was a big goal, I think it just let everyone breathe again and we stuck to our game."

The Panthers are coming off of a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and are 2-2-0 on their current five-game west coast road trip, which comes to a close tonight.

Entering the evening with 70 standings' points, the Panthers are just two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and six behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Very talented team, they've got guys that can score, they can score a lot of goals," said Tocchet of the Panthers. "You've got to play a real good structure and positional hockey against this team, you can't get into a river hockey game, you don't want to be cheating the puck against this team because it'll be in your net. The warning of the players is that we've got to stay structurally sound."

Darcy Kuemper will start in goal tonight, Tocchet confirmed after the optional morning skate. Tonight will be Kuemper's first game with the Coyotes since December 19, when he went down with a lower-body injury in the late stages of an 8-5 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

No other lineup changes are expected.

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THREE THINGS

KUEMPER CLEARED: Darcy Kuemper's numbers still rank among the best in the league as he gets set to return to action after missing the Coyotes' previous 28 games. Among qualified goaltenders (21+ games), Kuemper's .929 SV% ranks first and his 2.17 GAA is tied for first. "It's been a long road, he's probably been our best player for the last year, year and-a-half, now we get our best player back and it strengthens our goaltending," Tocchet said. "Goaltending hasn't been our problem, Raants has been great and Hilly's played some really good games for us, so we're just strengthening our goaltending." The Coyotes' team 2.62 GAA ranks fourth in the NHL.

PUSHING 100: Rick Tocchet comes into the night with 99 wins as the Coyotes' head coach, holding an overall record of 99-102-28 in 229 games since taking over behind Arizona's bench prior to the 2017-18 season. He previously served as a head coach for parts of two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning (2008-10), where he posted a 53-69-26 record. With his next win, Tocchet will join Dave Tippett, Bob Francis, Wayne Gretzky, and John Paddock as the only head coaches in franchise history to reach the 100-win mark.

HOME COOKIN': The Coyotes have won three consecutive games on home ice and have posted an 8-1-3 record at Gila River Arena dating back to December 31, earning points in 10 of 11 games and losing in regulation just once over that stretch. The Coyotes' 19 home points earned since the turn of the calendar year are the most among any NHL team. The team's overall home record stands at 16-11-4.

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LAST TIME AROUND

JANUARY 7, 2020 - ARIZONA (5) at FLORIDA (2)

A quiet start led to a rambunctious second period in the teams' previous meeting, a 5-2 Coyotes win over the Panthers on January 7 at Florida's BB&T Center.

The teams combined to score five goals in the middle frame, the first of those coming off the stick of Christian Dvorak , and the latter two coming courtesy Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Taylor Hall , whose goals began the Coyotes' run of four unanswered tallies to overcome a 2-1 deficit.

Carl Soderberg upped the Coyotes' lead to 4-2 with just over two minutes to play in regulation, and Lawson Crouse added into an empty net to complete the evening's scoring.

Adin Hill stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced to earn the win.

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NUMBER TO KNOW

NINE (9)

Conor Garland , coming off of a career-high four-point performance (2G, 2A) in Saturday's 7-3 win over Tampa Bay, enters the night on a nine-game home point streak, which dates back to January 12.

The 23-year-old has totaled 14 points (8G, 6A) over that stretch. His nine-game home point streak is tied with Rick Tocchet and Ladislav Nagy for the second-longest of such in Coyotes history. Ray Whitney (10 games, 2011-12) holds the Coyotes record, while current assistant coach Phil Housley (22 games, 1991-92) holds the franchise record.

Garland comes into tonight's game first on the team in goals scored (22) and third on the team in points (39). He has the most home goals (15) and home points (26) on the roster.

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QUICK HITS

  • Derek Stepan has 25 points (8G, 17A) in 27 career games against the Panthers.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in goals (22), assists (54) and points (76).
  • The Coyotes' 423 PIM are the fewest in the league.
  • The Panthers are 25-4-2 when scoring a game's first goal this season.
  • Florida is 16-12-4 on the road this season.
  • Alex Goligoski ranks eighth in the NHL with 124 blocked shots.
  • The Coyotes' 83.2 PK% ranks fifth in the NHL.
  • Arizona owns a 19-13-3-2 all-time record against Florida.

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Lead Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - NHLI via Getty Images // GIF Highlight Footage: Fox Sports Arizona

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