Minnesota Wild (14-7-2) 30pts 2nd in the Central
3.26 Goals For Per Game (12th in the NHL)
2.70 Goals Against Per Game (4th in the NHL)
21.5% Power Play (12th in the NHL)
85.2% Penalty Kill (3rd in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 10G 13A = 23pts
2. #11 Zach Parise ~ 10G 10A = 20pts
3. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 4G 15A = 19pts
4. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 3G 15A = 18pts
5. #24 Matthew Dumba ~ 10G 7A = 17pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 23 PIM’s
2. #21 Eric Fehr ~ 20 PIM’s
3. #36 Nick Seeler ~ 15 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (9-5-2) 2.48GAA .921%SP
2. #32 Alex Stalock (5-2-0) 2.45GAA .913%SP
Arizona Coyotes (9-11-2) 20pts 7th in the Pacific
2.36 Goals For Per Game (29th in the NHL)
2.82 Goals Against Per Game (10th in the NHL)
15.5% Power Play (26th in the NHL)
90.3% Penalty Kill (1st in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Clayton Keller ~ 6G 8A = 14pts
2. #23 Oliver Ekman-Larsson ~ 2G 10A = 12pts
3. #8 Nick Schmaltz ~ 2G 9A = 11pts
4. #21 Derek Stepan ~ 6G 4A = 10pts
5. #40 Michael Grabner ~ 5G 5A = 10pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #67 Lawson Crouse ~ 26 PIM’s
2. #44 Kevin Connauton ~ 18 PIM’s
3. #23 Oliver Ekman-Larsson ~ 18 PIM’s
1. #32 Antti Raanta (5-6-0) 2.78GAA .909%SP
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (4-5-2) 2.71GAA .914%SP
A ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ was the pet name of a government project to spend $320 million dollars to connect the city of Ketchikan, Alaska to Gravina Island which had just 50 people living there. The budget earmark was seen as a massive fleecing of American taxpayers. What does this have to do with hockey?
The Arizona Coyotes have been the NHL’s version of a ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ for quite a while. Even before the team hired analytics guru John Chayka in 2016 the Arizona Coyotes have been mostly spinning its wheels. Arizona hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011-12 season and has hovered near the bottom of the league standings in most of those seasons since. The team has had a bargain basement payroll, especially while being propped up by the NHL as it did its best to navigate ownership and arena leasing issues with the City of Glendale, Arizona where Gila River Arena is located.
When the team hired Chayka, it was hoped this new set of eyes could re-invigorate the languishing franchise it simply has been more of the same. The team has been mostly a destination for NHL castoffs to contrast with their collection of young players. Arizona’s Head Coach Rick Tocchet has done a decent job at making the Coyotes more defensively responsible, but the lack of high end talent and offensive firepower has meant they’re often bringing a knife to a gunfight. Perhaps sensing that need for some more firepower the Coyotes dealt Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome to Chicago for Nick Schmaltz. But at best this can be described as a change of scenery trade as none of these players were tearing up the scoresheet on a regular basis for their respective teams. Chayka commented on the move in an article with the Athletic’s Craig Morgan.
Clayton Keller is having a pretty pedestrian sophomore season, but he is still the Coyotes most dangerous player even if he hasn’t had a lot of great talent around him. Veteran Derek Stepan provides leadership and experience but he’s not a game breaker. The rest is a collection of players who at times can flash brilliance but often leave you disappointed like Alex Galchenyuk. If the Coyotes have a strength as a team it is their team speed which is best utilized on the penalty kill. The Wild must be careful as the Arizona Coyotes lead the league with 10 shorthanded goals. They skate fairly well and use their speed to deny time and space which helps them keep games close.
On the blueline, Alex Goligoski, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson lead a very young group of defenseman that has some talent but not a lot of NHL experience. Jakob Chychrun had a pretty good game against the Wild a season ago and the Wild should try to attack their less experienced pairings as well as crash the net.
Another area where the Coyotes are above average is between the pipes where Antti Raanta does a pretty good job knowing he’s not going to get a lot of goal support most nights. Darcy Kuemper has done a decent job in a backup role, but Raanta’s numbers are very impressive and he gives the Coyotes a chance to win. Considering Arizona had a day off before tonight’s game I’d be surprised if Raanta didn’t get the start. He’ll want to have a better outing after giving up 6 goals to Calgary on Sunday. Adin Hill spelled Raanta on Sunday and who knows, maybe the Coyotes will give him a shot hoping to see the team respond for its young goalie.
Minnesota is coming off two come-from-behind wins against two high powered offenses in the Senators and Jets respectively. With the Coyotes’ ability to lock things down defensively, the Wild would be wise to do what they can to strike first offensively. Eric Staal is heating up offensively and Minnesota has a fair amount of scoring balance throughout its lineup. The top 6, which has included Charlie Coyle the last few games should take pucks to the net. Jordan Greenway and Nino Niederreiter seemed to be the cusp of providing some good offensive punch for Minnesota’s bottom 6. Eric Fehr and Marcus Foligno have been tremendous on the penalty kill for the Wild.
Defensively, the Wild have had better play since Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau chose to switch its top two defensive pairings, placing Ryan Suter with his old partner Jared Spurgeon and best friends’ Jonas Brodin with Matthew Dumba. So far its worked out pretty well. Personally, I think Suter is still struggling to deal with his injury and whether its soreness or perhaps lesser mobility I’m not sure but he is not moving around all that well and I believe that is what prompted the change of defensive pairings as much as anything else. The 3rd pairing of Greg Pateryn and Nick Seeler have been tremendously consistent and have provided that dose of sandpaper the team has missed for the last few seasons.
Between the pipes, unless Devan Dubnyk‘s still sick I would think he’d get the start for the Wild. If he’s still not ready to go, then Alex Stalock will no doubt get another opportunity and so far he’s been pretty solid for the Wild (knock on wood).
So what are the keys to victory against Arizona?
1. Crush Their Heart – The Coyotes will want to keep it a close game, and allowing them to strike first will simply see them go into lockdown mode early. Minnesota needs to bury the biscuit first and then keep on the gas and pile up as many goals as they can to convince this club they don’t have a chance. If the Wild let the Coyotes hang on within a goal or two going into the 3rd, they could be playing with fire. Do not let them believe they can win.
2. Crash the Crease – Arizona’s blueline is fairly mobile, but they’re not overly big or strong. Taking the puck to the net will put more pressure on whoever is between the pipes as well as their defense who struggles in physical battles. Minnesota is a bigger club, they might as well assert their physical will on Arizona.
3. Take Away Keller – Clayton Keller is the Coyotes most impressive talent and he has had some success against the Wild in the past. I have little doubt the Coyotes will be pairing him with Schmaltz hoping to create some chemistry with their young star. With the ability of the 2nd change, the Wild should be able to match up their best against Keller most of the time and force Arizona to try to win without its best offensive weapon.
What do you think is important for a Wild victory tonight? Let us know @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!