GLENDALE, Ariz. — Halfway through the lockout-shortened season, the Coyotes are one game over .500. Halfway through last season, they were two games over — and they eventually made it all the way to the Western Conference final. That’s the positive spin if you’re a Coyotes fan or player.
But this season’s first half feels vastly different because the Coyotes aren’t getting the goaltending and defensive play that characterized their unprecedented 2011-12 season. Were injuries and a short training camp the culprits in this slow start, or are the lack of practice time and regression by goalie Mike Smith going to define this season?
The answers will come shortly. There are only 24 games left in the season, starting with tonight’s game against another team on the playoff bubble, the Dallas Stars.
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
Balance? Like the Coyotes, the Stars do not have a single player among the NHL’s top 70 point producers, with 41-year old Jaromir Jagr leading the club with nine goals and 17 points. But Dallas is still 13th in the NHL at 2.83 goals per game. The explanation lies in the fact that holdout forward Jamie Benn joined the team after the season began, ex-Coyote Ray Whitney has been hurt most of the season and Michael Ryder was traded to Montreal. Since being shut out in Phoenix on Feb. 2, Dallas has scored three goals or more in 12 of its last 14 games. Solid special teams: Dallas’ power play unit is operating at an 18.2-percent clip (11th in the NHL) while its penalty killing unit is ranked eighth, killing 84 percent of opponents’ chances. Jagr leads the team with four power-play goals.
Under-the-radar elite: Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen doesn’t get the accolades he deserves because his numbers are never top-notch behind a sometimes-porous Dallas defense, but insiders recognize him as one of the game’s best. This season, Lehtonen is tied for 10th in goals against average (2.24) and is third in save percentage, stopping 93 percent of the shots he faces.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Contract talks: Larry Kelly, the agent for Stars C Derek Roy, is in talks with Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk about a contract extension for Roy, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reported. Roy can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, so the Stars are trying to negotiate a contract extension with him now. Roy, 29, has 15 points in 18 games and the Stars like him in the No. 2 center spot. Roy’s final year is worth a prorated $2.2 million for the lockout-shortened season.
Where’s Whitney? That long awaited return of Ray Whitney to Jobing.com Arena may have to wait until next season unless these teams meet in the playoffs. Whitney is still on injured reserve with a stress fracture in his foot. This is the final meeting between these teams in the regular season. Whitney is not expected back until Tuesday against Nashville.
Picks to click: Phoenix F Radim Vrbata has 15 goals and 34 points in 41 career games against Dallas. This would be a good time for his return. F Raffi Torres has 12 goals and 18 points in 31 games against the Stars.
For the Stars, Philip Larsen missed Thursday’s game in Los Angeles with an upper-body injury, while Aaron Rome (foot) and Ray Whitney (foot) are on injured reserve. For the Coyotes, F Radim Vrbata (foot) and D David Schlemko (shoulder) are day-to-day.