GLENDALE -- The Coyotes' first real road trip of the season is upon them. And, based on talking to some of the players and coaches, they're welcoming it.
Playing at home is great - the ideal scenario, in fact. But away games are inevitable and the smart teams use their road trips as bonding experiences that can tighten up the locker room and get everyone on the same page.
As it turns out, this is a pretty important stretch for Head Coach Dave Tippett's club. Prior to Thursday's tilt with Chicago, the Desert Dogs had picked up at least one point in the standings in five straight games. In that time, they outshot the opposition 155 to 105 and allowed just six goals. No seriously, six. To put that in perspective, they've made six movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, which is a) more than a little frightening and b) a sign that the Coyotes are starting to play the brand of hockey that has garnered them so much success in recent years.
Now they need to get right back to that after a rough outing against the Blackhawks on Thursday night. And the next week presents a great opportunity. The best part about the 48-game schedule is that every outing is a chance to directly make up ground on a conference rival, and Phoenix will certainly look to cash in on that opportunity. Let's break it down...
At San Jose: Saturday, Feb. 9 - 2 p.m. The Sharks stole one from the Coyotes at HP Pavilion back on Jan. 24. As you probably recall, Phoenix played the night before, took a 3-1 lead on Joe Thornton and friends midway through the third period, but ultimately fell 5-3. It's a game they felt they should have won, though they were clearly still pulling things together after the long layoff and short training camp. Plus Patrick Marleau was using some sort of magical hockey stick that made every shot he took find the back of the net at that point. Marleau and San Jose have cooled off slightly since then, but they're still dangerous. Meanwhile, the Coyotes have looked more like, well, the Coyotes lately (yes, I've erased the Blackhawks game from my memory - it's one game) and will take the ice on Saturday with some unfinished business on their minds. Remember, the Sharks jumped on Phoenix in the season opener last year, and the Coyotes responded by rattling off a 4-0-1 record in the next five meetings - including three shutouts from an extremely motivated Mike Smith - on their way to ripping the Pacific Division title away from Todd McLellan's group. Safe to say Smith and his teammates are motivated for this one as well as they look for a strong bounce-back effort. There's history here, and that always makes for entertaining hockey.
At Colorado: Monday, Feb. 11 – 7 p.m. Phoenix went 3-1 against Colorado in 2011-12, outscoring Joe Sacco's squad 16-6. Since then, however, the Avalanche took P.A. Parenteau from the New York Islanders and added him to their top line alongside Matt Duchene. Last year, Parenteau put up 67 points so, naturally, the Isles didn't feel the need to retain him. Now he's carving up the West to the tune of seven goals in his first 10 games. The Avs are in a tough spot at the moment though. Gabriel Landeskog is hurt and Ryan O'Reilly was last seen skating around in Russia as his agent and the team tried to work out a new contract to get the 22-year old restricted free agent back on the ice in Denver. Colorado wants to use this shortened season as a launching pad into the postseason after a two-year hiatus. Which is exactly why the Coyotes need to use this game to push the Avs back down the Western Conference ladder.
At Nashville: Thursday, Feb. 14 – 6 p.m. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than by setting Lauri Korpikoski loose on the ice against a Finnish goalie, right? Korpi has four goals this year, all of which have come against netminders from his home country. Pekka Rinne is one of them - in fact, he's likely the best of the group. Of course, relying on the offense to light up a former Vezina finalist may not be the most foolproof plan out there, but Phoenix has had plenty of success against Rinne. Last year alone, they put 23 goals behind him over the course of nine meetings, going 6-2-1 in those games and eliminating the Predators from the playoffs. And they notched four in their first meeting this year as well. Nashville is playing pretty good hockey of late after a sluggish start, and these two franchises mirror each other in many ways. The Coyotes will be looking to wrap up the road trip in style at this point, while the Preds will be coming off of back-to-back games against Chicago and San Jose. Expect two very hard-working teams to be working their hardest for points in this one.
So there you have it: win every game and everything's fine. Realistically though, four out of six points on this trip would be excellent, and would set Phoenix up very well heading toward March.
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