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Preview: Coyotes at Panthers

Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad out with injury; Goalie Mike Smith starts for Arizona

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

COYOTES (27-37-9) at PANTHERS (31-30-11)

7:30 p.m. ET; FS-A, FS-F, NHL.TV


Coyotes team scope

Arizona Coyotes rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun will have a homecoming at BB&T Center. Chychrun was born in Boca Raton and played for the Florida Junior Panthers from at the age of 5. His father Jeff, who played 262 games in eight NHL seasons, has had Panthers season tickets for years and will be among more than 50 family, friends and former youth league teammates at the game. "It's awesome," Jacob said after morning skate. "I grew up coming to the games here and [have] lots of good memories going to these games here. It's pretty cool to be on the other end of it now. It's going to be hard not to look up there; it'll definitely be weird. We have so many good memories here. I grew up a Panthers fan and to be playing against them now is pretty cool." Mike Smith will make his 50th start of the season one day after celebrating his 35th birthday. Smith is three victories shy of Ilya Bryzgalov's franchise record of 130. Louis Domingue made 36 saves in a 5-3 victory at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Coyotes, who have been eliminated from playoff contention, are 1-1-0 on a five-game road trip that concludes with games against the Washington Capitals on Saturday and the St. Louis Blues on Monday.


Panthers team scope

Florida Panthers 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. Jakub Kindl, who replaced Ekblad after being a healthy scratch for 19 consecutive games, will play. Goaltender James Reimer make his ninth start in 10 games after Reto Berra started against Carolina. The Panthers are 3-10-1 in their past 14 games and are nine points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with one game in hand. "We had a team meeting (Wednesday)," Rowe said. "I told them we're still in this thing and expect everybody to come ready to play hard every single night and I expect everybody to stay positive. My job as the head coach is to make sure the guys are being motivated. I'm going to lean on them and we're going to push them as a staff. Everybody's got to stay positive. It's been an awful year. Everybody knows that. We had expectations to do a lot better than we did, and we haven't. Everybody can talk about the changes all they want, but as I told them that's behind us and we've got to move on and we've got to mature as a group and we've got to get to the playoffs."


Coyotes projected lineup

Max Domi -- Christian Dvorak -- Radim Vrbata

Brendan Perlini -- Jordan Martinook -- Tobias Rieder

Lawson Crouse -- Josh Jooris -- Jamie McGinn

Teemu Pulkkinen -- Christian Fischer -- Anthony Duclair  

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Luke Schenn

Alex Goligoski -- Connor Murphy

Jakob Chychrun -- Zbynek Michalek

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Scratched: Peter Holland, Anthony DeAngelo

Injured: Brad Richardson (broken leg), Kevin Connauton (upper body), Shane Doan (lower body), Alexander Burmistrov (concussion)


Panthers projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen -- Vincent Trocheck -- Reilly Smith

Thomas Vanek -- Nick Bjugstad -- Jonathan Marchessault

Shawn Thornton - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle -- Jason Demers

Michael Matheson -- Mark Pysyk

Jakub Kindl -- Alex Petrovic

James Reimer

Reto Berra

Scratched: Michael Sgarbossa, Denis Malgin

Injured: Roberto Luongo (lower body), Aaron Ekblad (neck)


Status report  

Doan will miss his fourth game, but coach Dave Tippett said he was making progress and could be available Saturday against Washington. … The Panthers will go with the same forward lines for the sixth consecutive game. Luongo will miss his 10th game because of a hip injury. He has yet to return to practice.


Who's hot

Ekman-Larsson had a goal in back-to-back games. Fischer's goal against Tampa Bay was his third in four games this season. … Vanek had six assists in his past five games. Barkov has eight points (four goals, four assists) in his past seven games.

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