By Casey Gagnon @CaseySportsAZ on March 12, 2014
With back to back road wins over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers already this week, the Phoenix Coyotes remain very much in contention for the eighth and final NHL Western Conference playoff spot, trailing the Dallas Stars by only one point. With only 16 regular season games remaining, here are five key players whose play could very well determine whether or not the Coyotes receive a postseason invite.
The Coyotes acquired Martin Erat from the Washington Capitals last week before the NHL trade deadline. The 12-year NHL veteran wanted out of the nation's capital for some time. Coincidentally, the Coyotes have struggled to find a playmaker to skate on the second line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. Erat scored his first goal in a Coyotes uniform in Tampa Monday night and must continue to quickly settle in, making big plays when necessary.
Mike Ribeiro came out on fire at the start of the season, skating on the top forward line and reviving the team's power play to help the Coyotes become one of the NHL's top scoring teams. However, he's also endured several painful scoring slumps and spent far too many minutes in the penalty box. Thankfully Ribeiro is showing signs of life again, scoring a goal against Florida and registering two assists last week when facing Montreal.
Radim Vrbata's season thus far is a tale of spurts and slumps. After numerous scoring dry spells, Vrbata is heating up again, scoring five points in the last four games, including a goal and two assists against the Panthers. He was also the only player on either team to light the lamp in Monday's shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vrbata now leads the Coyotes with 46 points total, coming on 19 goals and 27 assists.
Michael Stone showcased his potential as a solid two-way blueliner early in 2013-14. At one time, he tied the league lead in goals amongst defensemen. He then regressed for a period, so much so that head coach Dave Tippett healthy scratched Stone for a string of games until Stone put forth a full effort again. Evidently, Stone got the message and has solidified his defensive play on a blueline currently plagued with multiple injuries.
Everyone concurs that solid goaltending is not optional when a team is fighting for an NHL playoff spot. Mike Smith knows this, and he's turning in his best performances of the year down the stretch when they are most needed. So far in March, he's posted a 4-2-0 record and .936 save percentage. The Coyotes will be a very difficult team to beat if Smith continues on this trajectory down the final stretch.
August 30, 2015 by Mike Flanagan
Patrik Berglund is out 3-4 months due to shoulder surgery, putting the fate of the bottom two lines in the hands of Kyle Brodziak. Read More
August 29, 2015 by Nick Villano
The Winnipeg Jets were one of the best stories in hockey last season. This coming season could bring some issues, however. Read More
Nail Yakupov has been a point of contention when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers. Next year, he will prove why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Read More
The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off a Stanley Cup win. There should be no issues, right? Read More
The St. Louis Blues are one of the best regular season teams every season, but their issues will continue to hurt them in the playoffs. Read More
The Vancouver Canucks are still a very good team, which they proved last season. What is going to hold them back in 2015-16? Read More
Martin Jones is the piece the San Jose Sharks needed to be a true contender in the 2015-16 NHL season. Here's why. Read More
August 28, 2015 by Darrell Samuels
There's nothing better, for fans, than a qualified NHL anthem singer to sing either the U.S. or Canadian anthems. These 12 folks have done it best over the years. Read More