Coyotes look to tighten up defense as Blackhawks visit
Dave Tippett has made clear that improved special-teams performance and goaltending will be critical for the Arizona Coyotes as they chase a playoff berth over the final 32 games of the season.
That's easier said than done, but the Coyotes really have no choice if they want to return to the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
Their shortcomings were in vivid display in Tuesday night's 6-2 loss to Los Angeles, but they'll need a quick fix if they hope for a different result on Thursday night when the defending NHL champion Chicago Blackhawks visit Gila River Arena.
The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona, beginning at 6:30 pm.
The last time Chicago visited it rolled to a 7-5 victory on Dec. 29.
Arizona allowed three power-play goals in Tuesday's loss, and its penalty-killing unit has slipped to 28th in the NHL at 75.9 percent. Goalie Louis Domingue was pulled early in the third period after giving up five goals for the second consecutive start.
Tippett said he will start Domingue against Chicago, but Anders Lindback, who started in the December loss to the Blackhawks but was pulled after giving up three goals on five shots, could get the call on Friday when the Coyotes play in Anaheim on the second night of back-to-backs.
"I expect him (Domingue) to be way better," Tippett said. "He needs to play better, he knows it, and that's where we're at."
Tippett said Tuesday night that the Coyotes have had myriad problems on the penalty kill, but better goaltending is essential.
"Our save percentage on the PK is way below what it should be," Tippett said. "Can we do a better job killing penalties, getting pucks down the ice and winning face-offs? Sure we can. But with your penalty killing, you need saves. That's just the bottom line and all three of our goaltenders, if you look at the stats that I look at, are way below."
Arizona's power-play unit has struggled as well, scoring on only 1 of its last 28 opportunities after going 0 for 5 in Tuesday's loss.
Tippett was forced to cancel practice on Wednesday because a couple of players showed up sick and he didn't want it to spread throughout the team, but he was hopeful that everyone would be available for Thursday's game.
The Coyotes (24-21-5) enter Thursday's play fourth in the Pacific Divison with 53 points. Anaheim also has 53 points but has played two fewer games. Vancouver is two points behind Arizona.
Chicago (34-16-4) leads the Western Conference with 72 points and has won seven of its past 10 games.
Right wing Patrick Kane is leading the NHL with 30 goals and 74 points. He had a goal and two assists in Chicago's December victory over the Coyotes, giving him five goals and 12 assists in his last eight games vs. Arizona.
Captain Jonathan Toews is expected to be back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension in Chicago's 2-1 victory over Colorado on Tuesday. Toews was suspended for pulling out of last week's All-Star festivities.
Left wing Artemi Panarin had one of the two goals in Tuesday's win and is leading NHL rookies in goals (18), assists (29) and points (47). Arizona's Anthony Duclair is fourth in goals with 14, and Max Domi is third in points with 33.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford is 11-2-0 in his past 13 starts. He ranks second in the NHL with 29 wins and fourth in save percentage (.931).
Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who had his second career hat trick in December's loss to Chicago, will play in his 1,436th game tonight. That will tie John Bycyk for seventh place all-time for most games played with a single franchise.