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Pittsburgh vs. Phoenix Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-2-12) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (3-4-0-6)

Where: Arena
When: Thursday, October 30, 10:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here


Breakout: The Penguins struggled against San Jose with their breakout scheme. Teams in the league are going to employ some variety of a trap to slow down Pittsburgh’s skilled players. The Penguins just haven’t been connecting on those initial passes. There is no doubt that Pittsburgh’s breakout is hurting because of the loss of defensemen Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar. Whitney and Gonchar excelled at making that first outlet pass. This is where Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski can step up.

Cycle the Puck: Once the Penguins break the trap and get the puck in the zone, they need to focus on cycling the puck on the boards. A strong cycle will wear down opponents and create more of a balance in possession time in the offensive zone. Pittsburgh has spent a lot of time in its own zone because it hasn’t established a consistent cycle.

Shoot the Puck: Now that we’ve gotten into the zone and cycled, it’s time to shoot the puck. This is a common theme throughout Penguins history. Pittsburgh registered a franchise-low 11 shots against the San Jose Sharks. The Penguins need to start getting rubber on goal. The players acknowledged the issue and will simplify things to get more shots. As the saying goes, "You can't score if you don't shoot."
Phoenix hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002 and the Coyotes have been in a perpetual rebuilding mode for the last five years. The team made significant progress last year and finished with a winning record (38-37-7) for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Coyotes committed to a full-scale youth movement. Phoenix is loaded with young talent and the team’s average age is 25. The Coyotes started the season with a 3-4-0 record and hasn’t played since last Saturday. Phoenix will be well rested for the game against Pittsburgh.

Wayne Gretzky, who is entering his fourth season behind the bench for Phoenix, will have to remain patient as his novice team matures. The Hall-of-Fame player should have a stronger offensive squad with the addition of Olli Jokinen. In the team's major offseason move, general manager Don Maloney sent promising defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida in exchange for Jokinen. Time will tell if Phoenix can end their six-year playoff drought (five seasons), but the team is certainly heading in the right direction.
Phoenix had difficulty scoring goals last season, netting only 2.55 goals per game. Jokinen’s acquisition addressed that issue. He’s totaled 251 points (111G-140A) over the past three seasons and has four 30-plus goal seasons (36, 38, 39, 34). He’s entering the prime of his career and should help long-time Coyote Shane Doan. Doan led Phoenix with 28 goals, 50 assists and 78 points last season and should increase those numbers while playing alongside Jokinen. The duo will skate with free agent signee Todd Fedoruk.

The rest of the team consists of high-rated prospects like: Mikkel Boedker (18), Daniel Carcillo (23), Martin Hanzal (21), Peter Mueller (20), Kevin Porter (22), Viktor Tikhonov (20), Kyle Turris (19) and Daniel Winnik (23). Phoenix has five first-round picks 21-years old or younger on the roster.

Hanzel (first-round pick in 2005) will center the second line between Carcillo and Mueller. Carcillo, who was acquired from Pittsburgh for Georges Laraque, brings a tough attitude to the team. He led the Coyotes with 324 penalty minutes last year. Mueller (No. 7 overall pick in 2006) netted 22 goals and 54 points in his rookie campaign and looks to continue his success.

Veteran Steven Reinprecht, who was a healthy scratch in the previous two games, will work the third line with Porter and 2008 first-round pick Boedker (No. 8 overall). Two more first-round selections skate on the fourth line. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Kyle Turris, and 2008 first-round pick (28th overall) Tikhonov skate with Winnik to round out the forwards.
Veterans Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris are the top tandem on the team. Jovanovski finished fourth on the team with 51 points (12G-39A) last year. Maloney traded defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton for Jokinen. To replace them, Phoenix added two physical defensemen in Kurt Sauer (Colorado) and David Hale (Calary). Youngsters Keith Yandle (22) and Zbynek Michalek (25) also see action.

Phoenix claimed 37-year-old Ken Klee on waivers from Anaheim earlier this week. Coach Gretzky told the Arizona Republic that Klee will make his Coyotes debut on Thursday night against the Penguins. It isn’t clear who Klee will supplant on defense or if Gretzky plans on dressing seven defensemen.
Speaking of claiming players from Anaheim, Phoenix nabbed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from the Ducks a few days before Thanksgiving last year. Bryzgalov responded by pitching a shutout in his Coyotes debut and entrenched himself as the ‘Yotes top goalie. He went 28-25-6 with a 2.44 goals against average, .920 save percentage and three shutouts. Bryzgalov, who will start against Pittsburgh, was a key component during the Ducks Stanley Cup run two seasons ago when he filled in for the injured Jean-Sebastian Giguere in the regular season.

Mikael Tellqvist is a veteran backup. But it won’t be long before the Coyotes turn to Al Montoya, the No. 6 overall pick by the New York Rangers in 2004. The former University of Michigan standout started the season with AHL-affiliate San Antonio and may make his NHL debut before the end of the season.
Phoenix lost Radim Vrbata, who finished second on the team with 27 goals and 56 points, to free agency. They also dealt away defensemen Ballard and Boynton and center Mike Zigomanis. The Coyotes brought in Jokinen to bolster the team’s offensive punch and defensemen Hale and Sauer to bolster the team’s physical punch. Phoenix didn’t splurge on free agents. Rather, most of the team’s new players were homegrown in the system, like Turris, Boedker, Porter and Tikhonov. Phoenix handed the keys to the kids and they're ready to hit the road.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound former No. 3 overall pick played the best hockey of his career in the last five seasons. His breakout season was in 2002-03 when Jokinen compiled 65 points (36 goals). Since then he’s recorded 58-, 89-, 91- and 71-point seasons with the Florida Panthers. Jokinen is a strong skater and difficult to to knock off the puck in the mold of Joe Thornton (ironically, Jokinen was selected two picks after Thornton in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft). Jokinen is an equally accomplished scorer and setup man. He’s notched a goal and six assists for seven points in seven games. Jokinen should help the Coyotes offense.
“We’re just trying to create some offense, which we desperately need.”
- Head coach Wayne Gretzky on his adjusted line combinations
3: Pittsburgh’s current winning streak over Phoenix. The Penguins are 3-0-0 in the last three games against the Coyotes.

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