Coyotes finally get a look at Czech-mate line

Martin Erat will return to the lineup Thursday and play with fellow Czechs Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.

Martin Erat (10) has missed the last three games with a head injury, but he's expected to play Thursday against Florida and be paired on a line with fellow Czech's Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Trade deadline acquisition Martin Erat is expected to play Thursday after missing the past three games (and most of the road game against Florida) while nursing a head injury. 

With center Martin Hanzal having returned to the lineup Monday in Los Angeles, the Coyotes' three Czech forwards (Radim Vrbata is the other) will play together for the first time since Erat's acquisition -- and for the first time in their lives.

Tippett is preaching patience as the line tries to find chemistry.

"Good lines just don't happen when you write their names on the paper," Tippett said. "In this case, just because they're three Czechs doesn'€™t mean that all of the sudden it's going to work."

Panthers at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Jobing.com Arena, Glendale

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Records: Florida 26-35-8; Phoenix 33-25-11

Season series: Coyotes lead 1-0

Scouting the Panthers: Another lost season is drawing to a close in south Florida. Despite a win in San Jose on Tuesday, the Panthers own the NHL's third-worst record and will miss the playoffs for the 12th time in the past 13 seasons. At least the Panthers, like the Coyotes, now have an ownership group as they try build a stable franchise with a host of young players, including Blackhawk cast-offs Brandon Pirri, Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes, as well as veterans Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. Florida's negative-51 goal differential is the second worst in the league to Buffalo's. This is a game the Coyotes have to lock down as they chase a playoff spot.

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That may be tough for Coyotes fans to hear when trade deadline buys are made to give a team a boost in the stretch run. There's no doubt the team would like to see a shot in the arm from its new Czech line, but Erat echoed Tippett's sentiments.

"We didn't have any training camp, we didn't have any games," he said. "But I know the players. I know Marty. I know Radim -- what they can do on the ice. It makes it much easier to read them when you know them."

Vrbata said the defensive side may take a little longer to jell and will require constant communication, but he said the offensive side of the game was coming easily in Wednesday's practice.

Now the trio will work on sharpening its Czech smack talk.

"When we get Z(bynek Michalek) in the pack, we need to start learning some words," Vrbata said.

SNEAK PEEK

Players and coaches are supposed to avoid scoreboard watching, but rest assured, the Coyotes are aware of the Dallas Star's recent struggles.

"The juice should be coming all from the opportunity we have, but that being said, it's human nature. Guys watch what's going on in the standings," Tippett said. "Guys just become more and more aware of what other teams are doing, but ultimately our focus is on exactly what we have to do. 

"If we don't take of our own business, those other games don't matter anyway."

The Coyotes lead Dallas by two points, but the Stars have a game in hand and the tiebreaker in the standings. But Dallas has lost three straight gams, allowing 12 goals in the past two. The Stars play streaking Philadelphia on Thursday while the Coyotes host the Florida Panthers, so there is more than a reasonable chance of Phoenix widening its lead for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

REMAINING GAMES

DALLAS -- Home (6): Ottawa, Winnipeg, Nashville, Nashville, Columbus, St. Louis. Away (8): Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, Phoenix.

PHOENIX -- Home (7): Florida, Boston, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Edmonton, San Jose, Dallas. Away (6): New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Columbus, Nashville.

SCORING FOR THE FUTURE?

The Coyotes signed NCAA free-agent forward Greg Carey of St. Lawrence University to a one-year entry-level deal on Wednesday. 

Carey (5-11, 195) leads the NCAA in assists (39) and ranks second in points (57). He also led the nation in goals last season (28), making him the only player this century to lead in both categories. Last season, he became the first junior in Saints' history to be nominated for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's best player.

Carey, a left shot who can play either wing, set an Ontario Junior Hockey League goal-scoring record with 72 goals in 48 games for Burlington in 2009-10. Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving likes his offensive instincts and touts his "great shot release" and thick, strong, rugged body." 

"I take pride in my offensive ability, whether it's shooting the puck or making plays," said Carey, who played with Glendale, Ariz. product Max Mobley at St. Lawrence. "I like to create chances every time I'm on the ice, but I also like to compete for pucks and work for pucks. That was kind of our motto at St. Lawrence this season. Outwork everyone. I really believe in that."

Carey went undrafted but said he enjoyed his path through juniors and college hockey, even if it added a little angst to his professional plans. The greater concern was how soon he'd get to skate again. The Saints' season ended on March 15 and the ice will be gone after a figure skating show at the school this weekend.

"You play the college hockey season and all of the sudden you're in this little purgatory period where you don't know when you're going to play hockey again," he said. "I'm excited to get back on the ice."

The consensus top college free agent this year is UMass-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin, but Carey was near the top of the list, and the Coyotes were looking for scoring. Carey, 23, will report to Portland of the AHL on Thursday and hopes to earn an invitation to training camp next season.

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