Before the CBJ puck drops: Phoenix Coyotes

GAME 79: Phoenix Coyotes

 

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36-28-14 — 4th place in the Pacific Division, 1 point out of the final Western Conference wild card seed

4-3-3 in last 10 games

 

SCORING RANKINGS

Phoenix

Goals for: 2.60 goals/game – 20th in the NHL

Goals against: 2.74 goals/game – 18th

Columbus

Goals for: 2.74 goals/game – 13th in the NHL

Goals against: 2.63 goals/game – 15th

 

SINCE WE LAST MET (on Jan. 2):

The Columbus Blue Jackets shut out the Phoenix Coyotes, 2-0, just after the first of the year at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona. Tonight’s game closes the home-and-home series between Eastern and Western Conference teams.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m hearing more about the Coyotes because of their pitched battle with the Dallas Stars for the final Western Conference playoff slot or what, but my ears always perk up when I hear about "Antoine Vermette and the Phoenix Coyotes." We in Columbus, of course, recognize Vermette as the 2009 (playoff year) trade deadline pickup from the Ottawa Senators who was moved to Phoenix at the 2012 trade deadline for now-backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney and a couple of draft picks. I recall ‘Yotes general manager Don Maloney talked up Vermette as a prime player, a targeted player on their trade deadline board.

I won’t knock Vermette – especially with the way he’s playing now – but a review of his numbers show a player who went from 65 points in 2009-10 to 47 in ’10-11 to 37 in ’11-12 (with 10 points in Phoenix’s 16-game playoff run) and an 82-game equivalent of 36 in the lockout season of 2013. This year, Vermette is ticking back upward with 24 goals and 21 assists (45 points). I’ve caught a couple beat reporter interviews on the radio, though, where the thought is that Vermette should be the team’s Most Valuable Player this season due to his point production plus his invaluable status as faceoff guy in tough situations, willingness to take a penalty to save a goal, etc. Point being, Vermette is being recognized as a fully-rounded player – offense and defense – in Phoenix. So good for him.

Back to the Desert Doggies: They ARE in a fight for that last Western Conference playoff slot with Dallas. The Stars are one point up on Phoenix with four games left on both teams’ schedules (including tonight). Dallas has an insurmountable lead in the regulation and overtime wins category. The two teams play each other on the last day of the season in Glendale. If the teams are tied – or within a single standings point of each other – on Sunday, that is going to be one crazy game out in the desert.

So if you’re wondering whether the Phoenix Coyotes are motivated tonight, let that sink in.

Top scorers in the Valley of the Sun are:

– Defenseman Keith Yandle (8 goals, 44 assists, 52 points)

– Forward Radim Vrbata (20 G, 29 A, 49 pts.)

– Forward Mikkel Boedker (19 G, 30 A, 49 pts.)

– Forward Mike Ribiero (15 G, 30 A, 45 pts.)

– Forward Antoine Vermette (24 G, 21 A, 45 pts.)

Goalie Mike Smith (a Canadian Olympic team member) appears to be nursing a knee injury, but he was in practice a couple of days ago and has been resting while backup Thomas Greiss fills in. Greiss apparently is getting the start again. In 17 starts, Greiss is 9-7-4 with a 2.28 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Not too shabby.

 

WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:

We’ve talked about the Western Conference wild card picture for the benefit of understanding the Coyotes’ situation, but we haven’t looked at the Eastern Conference playoff scenario. The Philadelphia Flyers are in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points and four games remaining. The Blue Jackets are in fourth with 87 points and, also, four games remaining. Wedged in-between the two in the Eastern Conference standings are the Detroit Red Wings, who have 88 points and four games to go.

The scenario is twofold: If the CBJ figure out a way to leapfrog Philly and get into third in the division, they will play their first round series with the New York Rangers in a "2-3" matchup of Metro Division rivals. If the CBJ are stuck in fourth in the Metro, they will sit in a wild card seed. Top wild card (currently Detroit) will play Pittsburgh, the top team in the Metro, in the first round. Second wild card (currently Columbus) will play Boston, top team overall in the Eastern Conference.

(Then there are the outside scenarios, such as the Metro’s second-place team, the 91-point Rangers, falling back into the mix with Columbus and Philly. There’s also a possibility that the New Jersey Devils, at 84 points and the top non-playoff team at present, goes on a little streak and backs their way into the wild card).

Want to guess how the CBJ solidify their position within the Eastern Conference, take a shot at moving up and protect against any rear-guard actions? By winning. Because tonight’s game is against a Western Conference team, they can even win in a shootout (but more regulation and overtime wins are better for tiebreaking purposes). It’s all about the two standings points.

Such as Phoenix is motivated tonight, so should be Columbus. Nice way to wrap up the 2013-14 regular season home schedule, eh?

 

WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:

Phoenix is a meat-and-potatoes team. They don’t have flashy scorers. They don’t stop every puck. They just win enough to stay relevant (at least this season, anyway). Thus, the matchups aren’t as obvious.

I’m going to toss my lot in with an X-Factor, a player who has the potential to break the game wide open – something I don’t think Phoenix can do as a bunch of grinders. Ryan Johansen already has 31 goals and 26 assists, and a middling defense and backup goaltender on the penultimate home game of the season just makes the perfect scenario for a "Don’t mess with The Johan" type of night, don’t you think?

As a second choice, I’ll add Artem Anisimov (21 goals, 15 assists) for all of the same reasons. Both he and Johansen are liable to light it up. If that happens, it will be a fun, fun night.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:

FOX Sports Ohio has it all for you tonight:

– Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" with the late-breaking news and info, as well as a full preview of the game, at 6:30 p.m.

– The puck drops at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.

 

Last home game of the season! Playoffs – and playoff seeding – on the line for both sides. Go Jackets!