Marquee week: Coyotes face NHL’s top team plus two-time defending champs

Marquee week: Coyotes face NHL’s top team plus two-time defending champs

Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan, middle, celebrates his goal against the Dallas Stars with Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and center Nick Cousins (25) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LISTEN: John Chayka, Coyotes GM

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes don’t need additional fuel for this stretch of nine home games in their next 11.

On the negative side of motivational scale, they’re at the bottom of the NHL standings with a 7-21-5 record. On the positive side, it means they have completed the most grueling early-season road schedule in NHL history.

All the same, it will add a little juice when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins come to Gila River Arena for games on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to understand how sharp you have to be,” Coyotes center Derek Stepan said. “If we’re not sharp against these two teams, they’re going to take it to us.”

The Lightning enters the game with the NHL’s best record at 22-6-2. They have scored the league’s most goals (113), they have surrendered the league’s third fewest goals (74), they have the league’s best power play (27.67 percent) and they own the league’s top two point producers in forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (42 points each).

“Last year was just an anomaly for them not to make the playoffs,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “They’ve got everything. They’ve got one of the best defensemen in the league (Victor Hedman). They’ve got two of the best goal scorers in the league, Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. They’ve got a goalie that’s up for the Vezina [Andrei Vasilevskiy]. They’ve got all the tools.”

The Penguins have proven they have all the tools by winning the Stanley Cup the last two seasons, becoming the first team to repeat since Detroit did it in 1997 and 1998.

“You always want to compare yourself and measure yourself against the best,” Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn said. “Standings-wise, we know there’s a big separation but you always want to get up for those games.

“We have been able to play against and have good games against top teams in the league this year so we know it’s there. It’s just a matter of doing it consistently.”

It would be poor analysis to dismiss the impact the early-season schedule has had on a team incorporating so many new faces, so much youth and a new coaching staff and style of play, but the players won’t go so far as to label it as an excuse. Stepan said the Coyotes are just looking forward to a favorable schedule that allows them a better chance to establish some momentum and find out what they’re capable of.

“I think this is a great stretch to put something together and prove to ourselves that we can play this game, that we can hang and we can execute our system for 60 minutes of hockey,” he said. “With how much travel and games we were playing, we were a little bit of a roller coaster due to the fact that we just played so much hockey.

“That’s just the way it is, but this next 11-game stretch is a really good opportunity for us to put something together.”


Lightning at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Gila River Arena

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station

Records: Coyotes — 7-21-5. Lightning — 22-6-2.

Injury report: Coyotes — D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) and F Zac Rinaldo (illness) are day to day. Lightning — D Braydon Coburn (lower body) is day to day.

Lightning scouting report: Tampa owns the NHL’s highest point total (46) and has won five straight … Fs Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are tied for the NHL lead with 42 points. Kucherov is tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the goal scoring lead with 21 … G Andrei Vasilevskiy is tied for second in the NHL in save percentage (.930) among goalies who have played at least 12 games.

Follow @craigsmorgan

Source : http://arizonasports.com/story/1347213/marquee-week-coyotes-face-nhls-top-team-plus-two-time-defending-champs/

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