Coyotes try to slow down first-place Panthers
Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 9:43 AMCOYOTES (16-13-3) at PANTHERS (18-9-6)
Phoenix 4-6-0; Florida 6-2-2
This is the only meeting of the season between the Coyotes and Panthers. In the most recent matchup, Florida won 2-1 in Phoenix on Dec. 4, 2010, as Scott Clemmensen
stopped 40 shots through regulation and overtime, and three more in a shootout.
In order for Phoenix to escape Florida with two points, the Coyotes will have to figure out an answer to Panthers leading scorer Kris Versteeg
, who is on pace to shatter his career-best numbers through the first third of the season. Versteeg's overtime goal to defeat the Hurricanes on Sunday was his 16th of the season, and he also leads the team with 34 points. In his fourth full season, Versteeg had his best totals as a rookie with the Blackhawks when he finished with 22 goals and 53 points.
Every point counts in the race to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is what made Saturday's 3-2 loss to the visiting Rangers a tough one to swallow for Phoenix. With the score tied and the final seconds ticking off the clock, the game appeared destined for overtime and the Coyotes assured of at least one point. But a Brad Richards backhander went off the leg of Keith Yandle in front and got over the pad of goalie Mike Smith and across the goal line with just one-tenth of a second remaining.
"It's one of those things; not much to say there," forward Lauri Korpikoski said in the Arizona Republic. "One-tenth of a second left on the clock, it goes in. That doesn't happen very often, but it happened. No points, so here we go, next game."
Trailing by a goal in the third period to Southeast Division rival Carolina on home ice, Florida was staring at a potentially damaging loss on Sunday, but a pair of feel-good stories came through to help the Panthers open up an eight-point lead over the second-place Capitals. Jason Garrison
became the first defenseman to 10 goals this season when he tied the score on a power play 5:47 into the third, then Versteeg struck at 3:08 of overtime to make up for a second-period turnover that led to a Chad LaRose goal.
"After the giving the puck away in the second, you feel shamed. It doesn't feel good, but you always try to come back and help the team however you can," Versteeg said. "Great goaltending, and it was just a fortunate play at the end."
Korpikoski has scored in consecutive games and has 3 goals in his last four for the Coyotes. … Sean Bergenheim
has 3 goals in the Panthers' last two games. Versteeg has 3 goals in as many games. Jose Theodore
is 7-2-2 over his last 11 starts, allowing two goals or fewer in nine of them.
Phoenix defenseman Rostislav Klesla (lower body) is close to being activated from injured reserve. … Bergenheim left Sunday's game with a lower-body injury and didn't return. He's considered day-to-day. Forwards Scottie Upshall
(upper body), Marcel Goc
(concussion-like symptoms) and Jack Skille
(shoulder) are on injured reserve.
Cal O'Reilly scored his first goal for the Coyotes and won three of his four faceoffs Saturday as part of a 68-percent effort (40 of 59) by the team in the circle. … Garrison shattered the Panthers' franchise record by a defenseman for fewest games needed to reach 10 goals. He accomplished the feat in 33 games, which is 11 fewer than Jay Bouwmeester in 2008-09 (44 games).
Phoenix acquired defenseman David Rundblad from Ottawa over the weekend for forward Kyle Turris, who was scoreless in six games after returning from a lengthy contract holdout. Rundblad is a rookie who posted 1 goal and 4 points in 24 games this season for the Senators. He's only 21 years old and has played internationally with another defense prospect on the Coyotes, second-year NHLer Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
"He's a really good guy and a good hockey player," Ekman-Larsson told Dave Vest for The Desert Dog Blog on the team's official website. "I look forward to seeing him again."