Ignore the off-ice problems. The Phoenix Coyotes are 10-7-0 this season, good for 6th in the West. Who predicted that? No one. Not even yours truly, and I happen to think they have a wealth of underrated talent. However, we won't get to see all of it tonight, which for the sake of the Canadiens and their constipated offense, is a good thing.
The Coyotes' defense has suffered two major losses recently. Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek are both out with everyone's favourite... lower-body injuries. Michalek led the NHL in blocked shots last year and hadn't been playing up to par recently, so the "week-to-week" diagnosis was more of a clarifying assessment than a shocking one. David Schlemko and Shaun Heshka have been called up to fill out the blueline and have done the job required of them so far, but it's also worth noting that Jovanovski was one of the Coyotes' major offensive providers until his injury. The struggling Habs come into Glendale having scored two goals or less in 11 of their 18 games, including the big fat goose egg from Tuesday night against the Flames.
(No, actually, it's something I would rather not re-visit. My voice still hurts. You'd think that I would actually prefer such a low score given my particular stance on such a matchup, but not only did we look worse than the Minnesota Wild, I actually missed Hal Gill on the power play. You know it's bad when...)
It'll definitely be a good change of scenery for the Habs, but in a must-win situation. The 'Yotes are not exactly offensive juggernauts, but they find ways around that to pull out the W. Tonight it'll be up to the Habs to find a way to do the same.
Smokin' up the desert:
- as always, Shane Doan. He may have been a bit rattled against Anaheim recently, but the longest serving member of the Coyotes still leads his team on the scoring front.
- Scottie Upshall is responsible for six of the Coyotes' goals this season, three having been in their last three games.
- the all-Czech line of Radim Vrbata, Petr Prucha, and Martin Hanzal. The latter's size combined with the vision and craftiness of the other two make for an impressive punch that leaves opposing teams in a hazy stupor until the next morning. Don't forget Robert Lang, either.
- the defensive pairing of Adrian Aucoin and Jim Vandermeer. Not because I love them an unhealthy amount--I'm actually willing to admit they gave me more frown lines in Calgary than anything. But they've taken their veteran responsibilities in Phoenix beyond many people's expectations, providing an offensive boost on one hand and crushing the opposition's speedy forwards on the other (which makes me fear for my own Pleks' well-being).
- Hudson native (and also former Flame) Matthew Lombardi, while quiet recently, has also found a niche in the desert after having been tossed from 1st line to 4th throughout his last couple of seasons in Alberta. It's here that I don't miss Hal Gill because Lombo is one of the fastest skaters around the league if not the fastest. Definitely a threat to the Spaceks and the Hamrliks, especially shorthanded. Here's hoping Hamr's memory of having been the one to set him up for so many breakaway goals in Calgary can serve him in a different light as the two face off as opponents for only the third time since that era.