The Coyotes continue their Western Conference road trip with a swing through St. Louis. The team has been in town since beating Minnesota 4-2 thanks to another two goal game by Radim Vrbata. The Coyotes should be rested, relaxed, and ready to play. Three days in a town with nothing but practice can do that. Hopefully they come out hungry and jump to an early lead.
The Coyotes are already shorthanded due to several key players being on the injured reserve. Mike Smith, Martin Hanzal, Gordon Boyd, and Kurt Sauer are all on injured reserve. It has been too long since I’ve written Kurt’s name. Can you imagine how stacked this defense would be if he was not suffering from post-concussion symptoms? You can probably add Rafi Torres to the list of players who will be unavailable for the contest since he delivered an elbow to the head in the Minnesota game. Brendan Shanahan will be handing out his decision in the next day if a suspension is warranted.
The Blues have their own injury and suspension issues. Ian Cole is sitting for a head shot, and concussions have claimed Andy McDonald (IR), Alex Steen (doubtful). Kent Huskins, Kris Russel, and Ryan Reaves are on the IR as well.
Radim Vrbata is two goals away from tying the goal total for last year’s team leader Shane Doan, who had twenty. Ray Whitney, the ageless wonder , has three points in the last three games. Mikkel Boedker has come alive and notched three points in the last four games. Boedker has benefitted from playing on the top line with Shane and Daymond Langkow. Whitney has given a new life to sniper Radim Vrbata. Whitney has hands and a vision that is magical and can find any player, all you have to do is get open. Vrbata has been getting open, Whitney finds him, Vrbata scores. Simple.
Recently, coach Dave Tippett asked all the players to give more. The players gave more in the last game. From the goalie on out, the team played a very simple but complete game. Mistakes such as neutral zone turnovers were minimized. The power play worked. The penalty kill was stellar. Dumb penalties were not taken. Soft goals were not allowed. In short, it was a perfect Coyote gameplan.
The Coyotes sit in a tie for 10th place with San Jose, both with 42 points. St. Louis is in sixth place with 47 points. The coaching change to Ken Hitchcock has worked wonders for the Blues. They went 8-1-2 since he was named coach on November 6th and rocketed up the Western Conference standings.
For the Blues, it is the usual suspects who will beat you. David Backes (11 goals, 14 assists) , TJ Oshie (12 and 12) , Alexander Steen (13 and 11) and Jason Arnott (8 and 12) are leading the team. Shut them down, and you only have to contend with Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrick Bergland, and Matt D-Agontini. Neutralize these three, and then it is Chris Stewart and Jamie Langenbrunner who can light it up. In short, they are an offensive powerhouse. In a previous column, I noted the goal differential as a good indicator of a team’s success. More goals scored than allowed, more points your team will have . St. Louis is +10, Phoenix is -1. Clearly Phoenix has to get more goals and register a few shut outs if the differential is to improve.
Blues netminder Brian Elliott is 14-5 with a goals against of 1.70 thanks to four shut outs. If he needs the night off, Jaroslav Halak is 7-7 with a 2.32 GAA. A total of 27 minutes separate their playing time. Meaning, St. Louis has a 1 and 1A goalie tandem. It cannot be overstated how confident is makes the team playing in front of you when they know there is not a considerable drop off when the starter needs a night off.
For Phoenix, it is unknown at this time who will be in goal. Jason LaBarbera has done a good job filling in for Mike Smith. Curtis McElhinney won his first game Friday night against Minnesota and played well enough he earned another start.
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