By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will play arguably their toughest road game of the season tonight when they take on the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre. The puck drops at 6:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
The Coyotes franchise, of course, was based in Winnipeg before moving to Phoenix after the 1995-96 season. Winnipeg returned to the NHL last summer when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to the Manitoba city.
The 15,000-plus fans inside the MTS Centre tonight likely will create a challenging environment for the Coyotes to perform within. Nevertheless, Phoenix will look to build on its impressive 7-3-1 road record.
“I don’t know what to prepare for,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said when asked to predict the reception his team would receive from the crowd at the MTS Centre. “Why would there be any booing? I don’t understand that part of it. None of these players here were the ones that made the decision to leave. It is what it is, the history between the two teams, but our mindset will be to come here and play well and try to find a way to win.”
He added, "Just like the first game of the year down in Phoenix, I think there will be some extra hype with it because of the history between the two franchises. But, ultimately, just like our first game at home, when the puck drops it's two teams playing to win. You have to get by all the extra rhetoric and find a way to win a hockey game.”
Captain Shane Doan
is the only member of the Coyotes who played for the team in Winnipeg before it moved to Phoenix. He logged 74 games for the Jets in 1995-96 – his rookie season. This will be Doan’s first regular-season game in Winnipeg since the move.
“I don’t know how I’ll be received,” Doan said. “...It won’t be overly positive. It will be one of those things where we'll wait and see. They’ve got their team and they’re very passionate about their own team so anybody that comes in (on another team) they’re not going to be too excited about.”
Doan had two assists for the Coyotes when they beat Winnipeg, 4-1, in their home opener on Oct. 15. Phoenix has won six in a row over the Jets/Thrashers and is 13-1 with a tie in 15 all-time meetings against the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise.
will start in goal for the Coyotes, who have won two games in a row after a humbling 5-0 loss to Vancouver on Nov. 25. Smith stopped 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win at Chicago on Tuesday after shutting out Dallas on Saturday.
► Click here
to watch Smith answer questions on "NHL Live" on Wednesday afternoon.
Winger Ray Whitney
is leading the Coyotes offensively lately with six points in his last five games. Daymond Langkow
has notched four points in two games since returning to the lineup after taking a personal leave of absence.
|Photo by Norm Hall
Center Kyle Turris
has been practicing with the team since re-signing on Nov. 22 and might make his season debut tonight.
The Jets (9-11-4) will enter the game after losing, 6-4, to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday on home ice.
“We had an opportunity to kick off a good homestand and we let it slip away at the end,” Jets forward Evander Kane told reporters.
The Jets, who will play 11 of their next 12 games at home, average 30.5 shots per game and also face an average of 30.5 shots per game. They took a season-high 43 shots on goal in Tuesday’s loss to Ottawa.
Winnipeg has scored on the power play in each of its past five home games going 8 for 23 (34.7 percent) in
that span. Winnipeg’s home power play ranks second in the NHL at 24.4 percent.
Dustin Byfuglien leads the Jets and all NHL defensemen with 97 shots on goal. He took 12 of Winnipeg's 43 shots vs. Ottawa on Tuesday.