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Arizona Coyotes at Tampa Bay Lightning preview: Vladdy likely to return

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Four points out of the last wild-card slot, Bolts need this one.

Ottawa Senators v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona Coyotes @ Tampa Bay Lightning: Game #72

Time: 7:30 PM Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS,SUN,FS-A PLUS

Opponent SBNation Site: Five For Howling

Preview:

Arizona is coming into Tampa right now as season spoilers -- they were mathematically eliminated from playoffs in their loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night, and have nothing to lose in wrecking the Bolts’ playoff chances. On the other hand, the Coyotes are travelling to their second road game of a back-to-back, and unless the Bolts are really off their game, Tampa has a strong chance of winning.

It would be very difficult to be a worse team than Arizona right now. Sitting at 61 points in 72 games played, good for 29th in the league, Arizona would be last in the league if not for the play of goaltender Mike Smith. Smith recently shut out the Colorado Avalanche (the actual worst team in the league) to set a franchise shutout record.

Smith has also been frustrated at his team this season, despite setting a franchise record for number of saves in a game (58) in December against the second-in-league Blue Jackets. Smith summarized the Coyotes’ play in words that every goaltender likely wants to say to their team at some point:

Frustrated would be a good word, but it’s even worse than that, I think, right now. At some point you’d like to see your team move forward and take steps in the right direction to start having your chance to win hockey games. It seems like once we take one step forward we’re taking a couple back. It’s tough to play like that in this league and expect to come out and win hockey games.

It’s probable, since Smith played last night, that Bolts will see backup goaltender Louis Domingue. Domingue has played 27 games this season for an 8-14-0 record and .903 SV%.

Defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on the power play in the Coyotes’ game against the Predators, and is worth keeping an eye on tonight. There was recent trade talk, considering that OEL has put up a comparatively few number of points compared to last season’s 55, but it was swiftly put to rest by Five For Howling. (Excellent analysis in this article.) Here is On The Forecheck’s scouting report of OEL’s game:

On defense, Oliver Ekman-Larsson stands head and shoulders over the other blueliners on the Coyotes. Despite being one of the top defensemen in the NHL, he fails to receive his deserved recognition due to playing on such a poor team. He’s having a down season with 34 points in 71 games after having 55 in 75 last season. However, his 34 points still put him second on the Coyotes in scoring, so his lack of scoring likely is due to the void of talent around him.

OEL’s play against the Predators proved them right.

The Coyotes and Bolts pace each other for average youth of their teams, at 26-ish years old. Despite this, the Coyotes' leading scorer is 35-year-old Radim Vrbata (51 points), and the Bolts' leading scorer is 23-year-old Nikita Kucherov (71 points). Top-line winger Max Domi shows glimmers of offensive hope, but is currently fourth on a low-scoring team at 31 points (9G/22A).

Apropos of nothing, this is a heart-warming story: Recently, Zbynek Michalek was recalled from the Tucson Roadrunners to play a third-pairing defensive role with the team. He's played 610 games with the Coyotes, second only to Shane Doan for franchise record. He was assigned to the AHL in October after failing to make the team out of camp, but was recalled to play against Nashville in the Coyotes' most recent loss. It is likely Michalek's last season in the league, and he’s glad to be playing out the rest of the season in the NHL for one last hurrah.

Yesterday, Coach Jon Cooper mentioned that Vladislav Namestnikov might be able to return after re-aggravating his March 9 injury in a game against the New York Rangers on March 13. Cooper emphasized that it was the time of the season where players had to be returned to the lineup "as fast as we can" because it is "crunch time."

A return is less likely for Cedric Paquette and Tyler Johnson. Paquette practiced yesterday, but in a red no-contact jersey. Joel Vermin was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch last night, likely for insurance in case anyone is re-injured during morning skate.

Lines were updated after morning skate.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov? - Jonathan Drouin

Yanni Gourde - Adam Erne - Joel Vermin

Luke Witkowski - Gabriel Dumont - JT Brown

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards

Max Domi - Christian Dvorak - Radim Vrbata

Brendan Perlini - Jordan Martinook - Tobias Rieder

Lawson Crouse - Josh Jooris - Teemu Pulkkinen

Jamie McGinn - Peter Holland - Anthony Duclair

Defense

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Luke Schenn

Alex Goligoski - Connor Murphy

Jakob Chychrun - Zbynek Michalek

Goaltenders

Louis Domingue

Mike Smith