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Lightning at Coyotes preview: Gunnin’ for Nolan (updated)

The 23rd-place team in the league meets the 29th-place team in the league.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Lightning at Coyotes: Game 48

Time: 8 pm Eastern Time

Location: Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona

Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, FS-A PLUS

Opponent SBNation Site: Five For Howling


Two teams are trying their hardest for Patrick Nolan this season. One of them is Arizona, stuck in 29th place in the league with 32 points. It will be difficult for them to catch up to the Colorado Avalanche, however, who (as of yesterday) are at a record-setting and League-trailing 27 points, with two games in hand on the Yotes. The Avs look like they have the best chance at Patrick Nolan; the Coyotes are unfortunate enough to have excellent goaltending to steal them a few wins.

As depressing as it is to realize that Tampa is currently sitting in the bottom half of the league at 23rd, it's even harder to concieve of how terrible the Coyotes are this season. While Tampa's goal differential is -10, the Coyotes are at -50, with 97 goals scored and 147 goals against -- and that's with Mike Smith still somehow sporting an SV% of .914.

One story of Smith's goaltending heroics made international news. On December 3, with the Coyote defense leaking like a sieve, he faced a franchise-record 60 shots from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and saved 58 of those. His excellent goaltending has been recognized by the league -- they've selected him for the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.

The story that Smith tells of getting the call for an All-Star Game berth is kind of funny:

Mike Smith wasn’t able to answer the phone when Coyotes general manager John Chayka called him on Monday night.

“I wasn’t looking forward to the call back,” Smith said. “I think you think the worst when your general manager calls you on your bye week.”

Smith wasn’t being traded. Chayka called to let him know he had been selected to his first NHL All-Star Game at age 34, 11 seasons into his NHL career.

...It's funniest when you realize that Smith probably thought Chayka was trading him because he was ruining their chances at last place.

None of this is to say that the Yotes are a pushover. The first-in-Central Minnesota Wild blew two leads against them in the last game the Yotes played, and had to battle back for the 4-3 victory. The young defensemen are still finding their feet, but even with Anthony Duclair recently sent back to the minors, they still have some fight. In the words of Jakob Chychrun:

It's tough, we're in a tough spot right now, I think, and I think everyone knows we're playing for each other. We want to do this together, we want to get out of this together. I think as long as we keep showing that intensity and desperation that we did tonight we'll be able to find goals sooner than later.

You have to feel for players of a rebuilding team. It is likely psychologically wearing to lose night after night after night, with no hope of help from the GM who really wants to tank... But all compassion aside, Tampa needs to roll this team as hard as it can.

Tampa begins the second half of its six-game road trip tonight. So far, the trip has been .500, with Tampa winning in LA to a team without Anze Kopitar and playing its backup goalie; losing to Anaheim in overtime after playing some excellent hockey; and losing in regulation to a Sharks team who were on the second night of a back-to-back.

The team has not played badly.

Bishop started the first two back-to-back games of the road trip. Against the Sharks, Andrei Vasilevskiy, once again on a rotation with Ben Bishop, saved 22 of 24 shots for his sixth loss in a row. Although he's still clearly a developing goalie, the loss is not entirely on his shoulders. Anton Stralman, perhaps the best player game analyst on the team, said of the match: "I think it was a good game for us if you look at our play. We just can't find the back of the net. It's a little tough when we finally turn our game around and play some good hockey and you can't find the goal."

Jonathan Drouin has been having a quietly outstanding season, at a little over a point-per-game (23) in his last 22 games. He's also been making highlight-reel plays, like this one against the Sharks:

Tonight, let’s hope for more of these.

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Vlad Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Erik Condra

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin

Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont

Defense Pairings

Nikita Nesterov - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Luke Witkowski


Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Arizona Coyotes

Forward Lines

Tobias Rieder - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair

Jamie McGinn - Alex Burmistrov - Radim Vrbata

Brendan Perlini - Christian Dvorak - Shane Doan

Lawson Crouse - Peter Holland - Jordan Martinook

Defense Pairings

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Luke Schenn

Alex Goligoski - Michael Stone

Jakob Chychrun - Connor Murphy


Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Update, Noon EST:

It appears as though Erik Condra is now out for tonight’s game as the Lightning have placed him on waivers, presumably to send him back to the Syracuse Crunch if he clears: