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At the Rink: Lightning at Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Center Antonie Vermette could play his final home game with the Arizona Coyotes when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

The veteran center is expected to be moved before the March 2 NHL Trade Deadline, and Arizona heads out on a four-game road trip next week and won’t return home until after the deadline.

Several other Coyotes could be traded too. Forward Martin Erat and defenseman Zbynek Michalek are among those being mentioned as trade targets. But the loss of Vermette, a fan favorite and key member of Arizona’s first and only division title and first-ever run to the Western Conference Final, would be hardest for fans to swallow.

General manager Don Maloney has reiterated Arizona will be looking to acquire assets at the deadline, and the 32-year-old Vermette, whose 35 points are second on the Coyotes, plays a solid two-way game, is excellent in the face-off circle, and could be very attractive to a team looking to beef up for the stretch run and fast-approaching playoffs.

The waiting game for the deadline has taken its toll on the Coyotes. After a nice run following the All-Star break, Arizona has lost three in a row and six of seven, with the low point coming in a 5-2 road loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.

Arizona didn’t have a single shot on goal in the second period against Colorado. Goaltender Mike McKenna allowed three early goals, and coach Dave Tippett gave his team the ultimate thumbs-down review afterward, saying, “That didn’t look like an NHL team.”

The Coyotes have won an NHL-low nine times in 28 games at home this season; they set a franchise record with a nine-game losing streak (0-6-3). Now they are in the midst of another home losing streak, losers of seven straight at home (0-6-1); they have not won at home since Jan. 8.

“It was a good thing we had a few days of practice,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “You can’t be tentative in this league. If you are, you’re going to find yourself behind.”

They won’t find any sympathy from Tampa Bay, which sits one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the Atlantic Division lead. The Lightning has won two of the first three on a five-game road trip and leads the League with 95 goals on the road.

The Lightning have also dominated the Pacific Division this season (9-4-0) and set a season high for goals in a 7-3 win against Arizona in the first game this season. Tampa Bay could be one of the teams interested in a player like Michalek at the deadline, but he is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury and may not make the road trip with Arizona.

Here are the projected lineups:

LIGHTNING

Alex KillornSteven StamkosRyan Callahan

Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonNikita Kucherov

Cedric PaquetteValtteri FilppulaBrett Connolly

Jonathan DrouinBrian BoyleBrenden Morrow

Victor HedmanAndrej Sustr

Mark Barberio - Anton Stralman

Jason GarrisonNikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: J.T. Brown, Luke Witkowski

Injured: Matt Carle (upper body), Radko Gudas (knee)

COYOTES

Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine VermetteShane Doan

Lucas Lessio - Kyle ChipchuraMartin Erat

Jordan Martinook - Mark Arcobello - Sam Gagner

Tobias Rieder - Joe Vitale - David Moss

Oliver Ekman-LarssonConnor Murphy

Keith YandleAndrew Campbell

Brandon GormleyMichael Stone

Mike Smith

Mike McKenna

Scratched: B.J. Crombeen

Injured: Mikkel Boedker (upper body), Martin Hanzal (upper body), Zbynek Michalek (upper body)

Status report: The Coyotes sent center Alexandre Bolduc, returning to health, to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League so he could play in more games this weekend. … The Lightning will start Bishop against the Coyotes, and Vasilevskiy against the Avalanche on Sunday. … Tippett juggled his lines again after the loss to Colorado on Monday, with Martinook joining Arcobello and Gagner. … Smith is expected to be in goal all three games over the next four nights after getting a week off.

Who's hot: Vermette has 15 points in 26 career games against Tampa Bay. … Bishop has won three of his past four starts, and his 29 wins are tied for fourth in the NHL. … The Lightning are 18-2 when Callahan scores a goal, dating back to his acquisition from the New York Rangers last season. … Johnson has a point is six of the past eight games and his plus-28 rating ranks third in the League. … Kucherov had his first career hat trick against the Coyotes on Oct. 28 in Tampa.

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