January 4 – Day 86 – Pacific Division Pandemonium

It’s a league-best nine straight wins for the Florida Panthers, as they defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-1 last night in our Game of the Day!

The first goal of the game didn’t take even 30 seconds of play.  Third Star of the Game Dmitry Kulikov and Jonathan Huberdeau assisted First Star Jaromir Jagr to his first of two goals on the evening (on only two shots, no less!), setting the score at 1-0, which held into the intermission.

Just as Jagr didn’t wait in the first period to give his team a score, neither did Jason Zucker, as he was assisted by Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter to a goal at the 48 second mark of the second.  His game-tying goal was the only tally of the second period.

Brandon Pirri and Kulikov waited a little while into the period before assisting Jagr to his game-winning tally after 8:52.

Second Star Al Montoya improves his record to 6-1-1 after saving 39 of 40 (97.5%), while Devan Dubnyk’s record falls to 16-11-3 after saving 27 of 29 (93.1%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 34-16-6, with the home squads leading the roadies by 26 points.

I know we’ve gotten comfortable in Sunrise, but the Panthers don’t have a game tonight, so it looks like we’ll have to look outside the Sunshine State for our Game of the Day!  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when Detroit pays a visit to New Jersey (TVAS), with Ottawa at St. Louis (RDS) following an hour later.  9 p.m. eastern brings with it the start of two games (Los Angeles at Colorado [NBCSN] and Carolina at Edmonton), while this evening’s nightcap, Arizona at Vancouver, follows an hour later.

Arizona at Vancouver is tonight’s only divisional rivalry, and Detroit at New Jersey is the only game featuring two squads both currently qualifying for the playoffs.

Of late, I’ve been favoring the games between the qualifiers, but I’m going to go off script today due to the competition for the Pacific Division’s playoff spots, as a Vancouver win moves them from fourth to second-best in the division and focusing on the postseason.

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This will be both squads’ second appearance in the Game of the Day series.  The Coyotes currently own a 1-0-0 record thanks to their 4-3 overtime victory in Anaheim on November 9.  Vancouver‘s lone appearance wasn’t quite so fortunate, as they fell 5-0 at home to the Los Angeles Kings last Monday.

The 18-16-4 Arizona Coyotes currently sit in second place in the Pacific Division and seventh in the Western Conference.  They’ve utilized a top-10 offense, as measured by goals scored, to fight their way into playoff position in their highly-competitive division (second and seventh are separated by only five points).

Although they are led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s 109 shots, the Coyotes have put only 1022 shots on net so far this season.  Fortunately for them, 10.5% of those attempts are finding the back of the net (led by Captain Shane Doan’s 13 goals) for 107 goals, ninth most in the league.  One portion of the Coyotes‘ play that still needs to find success is their power play.  Although Arizona has had 143 opportunities, 22 over the league average, they have managed 24 goals (led by Doan’s six), only one more than average.  To make matters worse, the Coyotes‘ special teams have allowed eight shorties already this season – most teams have only allowed three!

It has been fortunate that the offense has found success, because they have needed to cover for defensive mistakes.  Even with Michael Stone’s team-leading 61 blocks, the Coyotes have still allowed 1169 shots to reach 10-9-1 Mike Smith and co. (3-2-2 Louis Domingue will get the start), of which only 90.2% have been saved for 121 goals against, third-worst in the league.  The only bright spot for the defense has been their average penalty kill, which is good, since Arizona likes to commit penalties.  The opposition has had 138 man-advantages, of which the Coyotes have killed 78.99%, allowing 29 goals.

Their most recent showing was a 4-3 overtime loss in Edmonton on Saturday.

The 15-15-9 Vancouver Canucks are currently fourth-best in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, but a win tonight puts them in second in the division, at least for the evening.  They play a better defensive game, but both sides of the ice need to see an improvement if this team wants to be taken seriously.

Led by Chris Tanev’s 94 blocks, the Canucks have allowed 1195 shots to reach 10-11-6 Ryan Miller and co. (4-4-2 Jacob Markstrom will start), of which they’ve collectively saved 91.2% for 108 goals against.  Their penalty kill is slightly below-average, killing 78.95% of attacks and allowing 28 goals.

It could be argued that Vancouver‘s offense has simply been unlucky this season.  They’ve put 1138 shot on net so far this season (led by Radim Vrbata’s 138), but only 8.1% have found the back of the net for 92 goals (led by Daniel Sedin’s 16).  The power play continues that trend, as it has been successful only 16.03% of the time, scoring 21 goals (led b Sedin’s five) on 131 opportunities.

Their most recent showing was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Ducks on New Year’s Day.

As an added bonus, tonight’s game is also the first return of Brad Richardson to Rogers Arena, who spent the last two seasons with the Canucks before signing with the Coyotes in free agency this offseason.  He played a total of 118 games over his career in British Columbia, scoring 44 points (19 goals and 25 assists).

Tonight’s game will be the second of four meetings this regular season.  The first game went to the visiting Canucks on October 30, who won 4-3.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Arizona‘s Mikkel Boedker (30 points, 10 even-strength goals and 10 power play assists [all lead team]) and Vancouver‘s Henrik Sedin (24 assists [ninth in the league]).

This is a tough game for me to predict, as I do not believe either to be a playoff-caliber team, at least not as they are currently.  That being said, I think that Arizona‘s offense will be too much for the Canucks to handle, so I’ll pick the Coyotes to win.

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