Yotes hope to recover winning ways against Preds
Holiday Monday action featured two teams having gone in opposite directions in recent weeks as the formerly twelvth place Coyotes, sitting 4th, went head-to-head with the then-tenth place Sharks. The latter came out with the win by a score of 4-2.
Phoenix had won four straight before Monday afternoon whereas San Jose, also the winner of the previous meeting between the two teams by a score of 4-1, beat the Blues 4-2 on Saturday night but lost six in a row before that. Still, in Patrick Marleau's 1000th NHL game, he and the Sharks held the Coyotes at bay, scoring three goals as Antti Niemi stood on his head the rest of the way, not allowing the Coyotes to get any lucky bounces and killing off multiple penalties in the process. Dany Heatley and Logan Couture added to Marleau's tally while Derek Morris' fourth goal of the season was the lone Coyotes' marker heading into the third. But if not for the Coyotes' persistent ways, it might be harder to find a bright spot in the loss:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his first NHL goal Monday, pulling the Coyotes to within one in the game. It was the rookie's tenth point of the season and third in his last three contests. Fans will have a chance to see him at the NHL All Star Skills' Competition, where he is the Coyotes' lone representative.
Head coach Dave Tippett called the three Sharks' goals before Joe Thornton's empty netter "preventable" and stressed a need for opportunism by his squad, especially on the power play and five-on-three opportunities. He did get goals from two members of his injury-ridden blueline on Monday, while the forwards were met by a hot goalie and his helpers made of iron.
In the meantime, tonight the Coyotes take on the Nashville Predators, who are currently only one point behind them in the standings. In their fourth and last game of their second-longest homestand this season, it is likely Phoenix will be without three members of their blueline, as new acquisition Michal Rozsival has yet to make his debut due to an upper-body injury, Ed Jovanovski has a lower body injury, and David Schlemko was victim to an elbow to the head in yesterday's game against the Sharks. The former two rearguards did practice with the team this morning as part of a few participants in the game-day skate. Meanwhile, Scott Nichol's hit on Schlemko is pending review by the disciplinary board of the NHL. Vern Fiddler is another name in the Coyotes' clinic as he is expected to be out at least another couple of weeks with a shoulder injury.
While NHL third star of the week Ilya Bryzgalov has fared quite well in his campaigns as of late, Pekka Rinne is only behind Tim Thomas in terms of goals-against average (2.13) and save percentage (.927). Phoenix's power play has taken another hit after experiencing some success earlier this season: they are 23rd in the league now (and went 0/4 yesterday) whereas Nashville is not a generous team when it comes to giving up power play chances to begin with. Taylor Pyatt leads the 'Yotes offense with 12 goals including five in his last seven games while Keith Yandle (the apparent non-All-Star) ranks sixth in the league for points from a defenseman and holds top spot on his team (7-29-36). Patric Hornqvist is one of four Nashville players with ten goals or more, one being Steve Sullivan, who is on the Preds' injured list, and the others being Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn. (Yes, that Sergei Kostitsyn.) Shea Weber has the team lead in points with 28.
The Coyotes would be welcoming back a former teammate to Jobing.com Arena tonight, but speedy Nashville forward Matthew Lombardi is still suffering from a concussion and has yet to practice with his teammates since the second game of the season when he was injured. No timetable has been set for his return.
Tonight's key to the game for the Coyotes: if the bounces don't come, as they didn't in San Jose, it's better to create your own before time runs out. It won't get much easier from here until the end of the month, as a home and home series against the Los Angeles Kings awaits, followed by the unpredictable Oilers and tough Avalanche squads. Phoenix then opens February with a rematch against the Sharks on Tuesday, February 1st.