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Coyotes at Panthers Preview

Arizona has reached the middle game of lengthy road trip

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

The Coyotes will play the middle game of a five-game road trip on Thursday when they battle the Florida Panthers. The puck drops at 4:30 p.m. Arizona time at the BB&T Center.

Arizona (27-37-9) is seeking a sweep of the NHL's Florida-based teams on this trip, and for the season, after beating Tampa Bay, 5-3, on Tuesday.

Mike Smith will be back in goal for his 50th start of the season after sitting out Tuesday's game. Smith has earned 127 wins for the Coyotes, three shy of Ilya Bryzgalov's franchise record.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has scored a goal in each of the first two games of the road trip, and forward Anthony Duclair has a two-game assist streak.

Thursday's game is a homecoming, of sorts, for Coyotes rookie Lawson Crouse, whom the Panthers drafted 11th overall in 2015 but traded to Arizona for two draft picks last summer. Crouse has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 63 games and his 137 hits are the second most among NHL rookie forwards.

"It's pretty exciting,'' Crouse said. "Obviously, this is where it started for me ... Being up there on that draft floor on draft day (2015) was a pretty proud moment for myself and family, so it definitely brings back some good memories."

Crouse is not bitter about the trade.

"It's the business side of the game," Crouse said. "They felt they needed to do it to make their team better. I got a really good opportunity here in Arizona and I'm trying to make the most of it. It didn't really change anything. I still had to come in here and try to earn a spot.The only thing that changed was I was an Arizona Coyote and not a Panther anymore.''

Video: Lawson Crouse previews Thursday's game at Panthers

Meanwhile, rookie Jakob Chychrun was born in Boca Raton and played for the Florida Junior Panthers from at the age of five years old. He is thrilled to play his first NHL game at the BB&T Center.

"It's awesome," Chychrun said. "This is the rink I grew up coming to games at and I have a lot of great memories here. We had season tickets for many years so it's real cool to be on the other side of it. It's going to be hard to not look up there, we have so many good memories here. I grew up a Panthers fan; to play against them will be pretty cool."

Video: Jakob Chychrun previews Thursday's game at Panthers

Rookie Christian Fischer, who has notched three goals in four games this season, has been a good luck charm, if you will, for the Coyotes; Arizona is 4-0-0 with Fischer in the lineup, including a 3-2 win over Florida in Glendale on Jan. 23.

Captain Shane Doan will miss a fourth consecutive game because of a lower-body injury.

Florida (31-30-11) has lost 11 of its past 14 games to drop out of serious contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Panthers are nine points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to play.

James Reimer is expected to start in goal. Like Smith, he was rested Tuesday. 

Per, defenseman Aaron Ekblad will be out of the lineup for the fifth time in six games. Coach Tom Rowe said Ekblad has a minor neck injury unrelated to the concussion that kept him out for four games before he returned in a 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. 

Forward Aleksander Barkov has notched 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) over his past 21 games, and he leads the NHL with seven shootout goals.

Defenseman Keith Yandle is expected to play in his 623rd consecutive game. His streak began on March 26, 2009 vs. Edmonton when Yandle was skating for the Coyotes.

Florida enters tonight's game ranked first in the NHL in penalty killing with an 85.9 success rate.

Video: Dave Tippett previews Thursday's game at Panthers



TV: FOX Sports Arizona 

Radio: ESPN Phoenix 620 AM



McGinn - Holland - Vrbata

Perlini - Martinook - Rieder

Domi - Dvorak - Duclair

Crouse - Jooris - Fischer


Ekman-Larsson - Schenn

Goligoski - Murphy

Chychrun - DeAngelo





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