By Dave Vest GLENDALE -- The Coyotes will play the first of back-to-back games this weekend tonight when they host the Florida Panthers at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (12-7-5) has beaten Florida five times in the past six meetings, including last season when it rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the third period for a 4-3 shootout victory.
The Panthers (10-14-0) enter this game - the finale of a three-game trip to the West Coast - having lost five of their past six games, including a 3-2 defeat vs. Los Angeles on Thursday.
“They're one of those teams… similar to us,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “They have a strong work ethic, they have a very good goaltender (Tomas Vokoun), and they play a very tight game. We'll have to put a hard-working effort in if we expect to have a chance to win.”
Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to start in goal for the Coyotes, who next play at Anaheim on Sunday. Bryzgalov has lost his past two starts after winning six games in a row.
Winger Ray Whitney leads the Coyotes 16 points. Winger Radim Vrbata is close behind with 15. Center Eric Belanger keeps winning faceoffs and has climbed to 13th in the NHL at 56. 1 percent.
While Vokoun, who ranks 10th in the NHL with a .918 save percentage, has been reliable in net for the Panthers, Florida’s power-play unit has been anything but reliable. The Panthers have scored just seven power-play goals in 83 tries for a league-low 8.4 percent success rate. On the flip side, Florida plays a very disciplined game and averages just 7.6 penalty minutes per game - fewest in the NHL.
Former Coyotes center Steven Reinprecht has four goals and three assists in 19 games for the Panthers this season. Former Coyotes enforcer Darcy Hordichuk has chipped in one assist in 17 games, and former Coyotes winger Bill Thomas has notched two assists in three games.
Coyotes left wing Scottie Upshall has notched four goals and two assists in the past five games, and leads the team with eight goals.
Panthers right wing Steve Bernier has notched two goals and two assists in the two games he has played since returning from an upper-body injury.
Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has posted a 2-0-0 record and a 1.92 goals-against average in two career appearances against the Panthers.
The Florida Panthers selected Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski with the first overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, and Jovo played 253 games for the Panthers until being traded to Vancouver during the 1998-99 season.
This game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona and can be heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM). A link to the radio broadcast will be provided at phoenixcoyotes.com at 6 p.m.
"It’s not going to be an easy game… We have to go out, worry about our game - being disciplined and playing our system, our style - and hopefully we’re going to beat them."