A confession: I actually really like the Phoenix Coyotes.
I didn't used to - to be honest, for a long time, it was a vague disinterest, and a bit of "Oh, ok, Gretzky behind the bench is pretty neat", but for the most part they were off my hockey radar, or a mild "eh, whatever" team at best. About the most notable thing I saw out of them was the fact that Ovechkin, Crosby, and Nash all had highlight reel goals against them at one point or another in the last few years.
But then came Jim Balsille, and the bankruptcy mess. Then came Dave Tippett and a vague sense of "oh, they're actually going to try to do something".
I think, though, what clinched it for me was the way the fans started to rally around them and their city. I know it's a relatively small fanbase, and you'll hear plenty of jokes about "attendees disguised as empty seats", but the ones who make the effort to defend the club really have a great cheerful "**** you!" attitude towards the rest of the world that you can't help but appreciate, and when the team fed off that and rallied to a playoff spot last year, I found myself rooting for them - especially when they pushed the Wings to 7 games. (And, hey, the Throw The Snake thing was fun.)
But that was then, and this is now. Having slipped below the Jackets in the playoff race, and as one of the few teams with a game in hand on Columbus, this is a team that we'll see three more times after tonight, and a win on the road would be huge - not just for the playoff chase, but to help get some of the confidence we saw against Toronto and the Wild back after a frustrating loss in Nashville.
|Game Time: 9:00 pm EST
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 102.5 WWCD
|Blue Jackets vs Coyotes coverage|
|Opponent's Blog: Five For Howling
The key to the Coyotes is that the team is greater than the sum of their parts - they don't really have a single dominating player, but guys like Keith Yandle, Shane Doan, and former Jackets' captain Ray Whitney are all helping to push the bus, offensively, and taking a group that the general punditry once again dismissed after the departures of Zybnek Michalek and Matthew Lombardi and have made them one of many teams keeping the West competitive and cutthroat.
For the Jackets, it will be interesting to see how they respond tonight - all indications are that yesterday's practice wasn't a terribly happy place to be for them, and Arniel has started to lean hard on the top line, making sure they understand that their performance of late is not cutting it. The team has had some big wins in Phoenix in the past, and they've also laid some serious stinkers there. This feels like a game that could easily go either way. They need to be the better team here, and start playing like a club that feels some urgency.
Keys To The Game:
- Leash Yandle - Keith Yandle is well on his way to a career year from the Coyotes' blue line, with 6 goals and 23 assists in 38 games, tying his previous high of 29 points. The Coyotes' power play is "middlin'", at best, but Yandle's strong offense from the blue line is a big part of their production with the man advantage and 5 on 5.
- Home Ice Disadvantage - The Coyotes, much like the Jackets, have struggled on their home ice - currently 7-5-4 at Jobing.com Arena, and 10-8-4 on the road. They're also 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, including losing three of their last 5 games on home ice, and coming off an OT loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
- Kannibal Korps - Keep an eye on Lauri Korpikoski. He's got 9 goals and 8 assists on the Coyotes' third line, and he's a very quick skater who has burned teams defensively with his speed - and he seems to have a thing about playing the Central Division. Some of his best games have come against Detroit, Chicago, and Columbus.
- Get The Bounces - Not surprisingly, Nash, Juice, and Twan didn't really like being benched on Sunday, with Vermette's summary of "Not a fun situation" probably making one the cut for understatement of the season. They had chances against Nashville, but got stoned by Rinne for much of the game. This could be the chance to get back on the ball, particularly on the power play - the Coyotes are one of the league's worst teams when down a skater.
Right now, we're going off the reports from the Dispatch that have Steve Mason in goal and the lineup essentially unchanged from Sunday. Here's hoping we get a bit of a better result - Mason played as well as you could hope for in his third game in four nights, but he didn't get much support from the team in front of him, and that's not how you want to start a road trip...
Blue Jackets Information:
|Kristian Huselius||Antoine Vermette||Rick Nash|
|R.J. Umberger||Derick Brassard||Jakub Voracek|
|Ethan Moreau||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Chris Clark||Kyle Wilson||Jared Boll|
|Jan Hejda||Fedor Tyutin|
|Rostislav Klesla||Marc Methot|
|Anton Stralman||Kris Russell|
|Wojtek Wolski||Martin Hanzal|
Tidbit(s): Some great stuff hitting the interwebs today for you. Start with A Letter To The Blue Jackets, then take a look at The Blue Jackets Line Dance before finishing up with Time To Step Up: Loyal, But Not A Lemming. If I was the CBJ's front office, I'd print these off and fedex them to Scott Howson, Scott Arniel, and a few of the other coaches and players. The fans are still behind you, but they're starting to get pretty pissed off....