Nobody knows exactly how many points it will take to qualify for the playoffs in the NHL’s Western Conference, but the projections the past several years have been remarkably accurate, and those projections now tab that number between 52 and 54 points.
Following Monday’s listless 2-0 loss in Vancouver, the math is pretty simple for the Coyotes. The maximum amount of points they can achieve is 58 if they go 9-0 the rest of the way. If the Coyotes go 7-2, they’ll likely squeak in as the West’s final seed.
What does that make Wednesday’s game in Edmonton and Friday’s game in Calgary? You guessed it: must-wins. Sure, the Coyotes can afford to lose four more points along the way if the projections are correct, but take a look at Phoenix’s remaining schedule.
Following Tuesday’s home game against San Jose, the Coyotes play four of their final six on the road. The sites? St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Anaheim. All four of those teams sit in playoff positions as we write, and two of them (Chicago and Anaheim) own the top two spots in the Western Conference. If you’re expecting Phoenix to roll through that gauntlet unscathed, stick around for our seminar on why hockey in Kansas City would have been a good idea.
It’s also important to remember the Coyotes are one of several teams vying for what appears to be one playoff spot. Dallas and Columbus both won Tuesday, dropping the Coyotes into 11th place in the Western Conference standings.
Tonight’s game in Edmonton feels especially large because the Oilers have already won the season series from the Coyotes, clinching the second playoff tiebreaker. Both clubs have 14 regulation or overtime wins – the first tiebreaker – so tonight’s game is magnified. But the best way to keep Edmonton out of the playoff pictures is to beat the Oilers and finish ahead of them in points — and the best way to do that is find some of the ingredient that was missing Tuesday in Vancouver.
“When you are facing elimination like we are, we’ve got to be more desperate than we showed,” said goalie Mike Smith, who did everything he could to steal a point with 40 saves and only one goal allowed against the Canucks.
“We were just slow moving, we were slow out of the gate for whatever reason,” coach Dave Tippett added. “It’s not a lack of confidence — we should have confidence coming off some good home wins — but we didn’t execute well, we didn’t skate well, and that’s what you get when you don’t execute and don’t skate.”
If the Coyotes have to offer up any more excuses on this road trip, their season will probably come to a close two weeks later.
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
7/9: That’s how many home games Edmonton has in its final nine games. Edmonton is 8-5-4 at home and 8-11-3 on the road.
Rising to the occasion: Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk has allowed eight goals over his past five starts for the Oilers and has a .948 save percentage over that span. This stretch, which has come at a crucial time for the Oilers, has vaulted Dubnyk into ninth place in the NHL in save percentage at .923.
22.7: That’s the conversion percentage for Edmonton’s power play, tied for third-best in the NHL. Penalties could come back to bite the Coyotes on Wedesday. Discipline will be paramount.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Decision time: Unsure of where he would fit in their long-term plans, the Oilers signed forward Sam Gagner to a one-year, $3.2 million contract before the season. The 23-year old is second on the team in points (35), leads in goals (14) and has been one of their most consistent offensive weapons all season. The 2013 season is Gagner’s sixth in the NHL. After seven, he can become an unrestricted free agent. If the Oilers want to sign him long term, this offseason will be their last chance.
The magic number is 7: Since falling to Carolina in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Finals, Edmonton has missed the postseason for six straight years. Any combination of seven Oilers losses and Red Wings wins will extend that streak to seven years.
Picks to click: Captain Shane Doan has 14 goals and 54 points in 59 career games against the Oilers. Center Martin Hanzal has five goals and 11 points in 16 games against Edmonton.
For the Coyotes, F Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) is out, while D Zbynek Michalek (ankle) is on injured reserve. For the Oilers, F Ales Hemsky (foot) missed Monday’s game. F Eric Belanger (groin) is on injured reserve.