By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will play their final game of 2011 today against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The puck drops at 4 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (18-16-4), which will enter the game looking to snap a four-game winless streak, has posted a 3-0-1 record at Minnesota under Head Coach Dave Tippett.
Goalie Curtis McElhinney will make his first start for the Coyotes, who have played seven consecutive one-goal games. They have won just two (2-4-1).
“It's frustrating,” Tippett said. “We've played a lot of tight hockey games and we can't find a way to get on top of them."
Phoenix again will pay minus two of its top centers – Martin Hanzal (upper-body injury) and Boyd Gordon (lower-body injury). Hanzal and Gordon have been missed over the past three games, especially in the face-off circles.
Special teams will be key in this game. The Coyotes have gone 18 for 18 on penalty kills over the last six games, but they are 0 for 11 on power plays in their last four games.
Photo by Getty Images.
Like the Coyotes, the Wild have slumped in the month of December.
On Thursday, Minnesota (21-12-6) avoided a franchise-record ninth consecutive defeat by beating Edmonton 4-3.
Niklas Backstrom likely will start in goal for the Wild, who still rank fourth in the Western Conference standings despite their recent woes.
Twenty-two of the Wild’s 39 games this season have been decided by one goal. Minnesota is 12-5-5 in those games.
The Coyotes will need to take plenty of shots on goal because Minnesota is leading the NHL with 635 blocked shots.
Right wing Cal Clutterbuck ranks second in the NHL with 148 hits. He led the NHL in hits in each of the last three seasons.
Coyotes right wing Mikkel Boedker notched the second two-goal game of his NHL career on Thursday vs. Colorado. Through 38 games, Boedker has tied his 2010-11 season scoring output (14 points).
Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who leads Minnesota in points (32), assists (23) and plus-minus rating (plus-12), has notched a point in nine straight games.
The Coyotes have played seven games on New Year’s Eve since moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996 and own a 4-2-1 record.
The Coyotes rank fifth in the NHL in goals scored on the road (55).