The Arizona Coyotes wrap up a four-game road trip on Saturday afternoon with a stop in snowy, frozen Minnesota to face one of the league’s hottest teams before returning to The Valley of the Sun.
Minnesota is riding a six-game winning streak overall after a 5-2 win in Nashville on Thursday night to give the Wild at least a point in 11 of their last 12 games (8-1-3).
Much of the credit for Minnesota’s recent success goes to former Coyote and current Wild goaltender, Devan Dubnyk. The league leader in goals-against average and save percentage, Dubnyk is 8-0-2 in his past 10 starts with a 1.65 GAA and .944 save percentage.
“We weren’t at our best but our goalie was,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said after Dubnyk’s 34-save performance against Nashville. “It seems like he gets into that zone there and he says that nothing else is going to beat him.”
The Wild survived on three first-period goals and a pair of late empty netters against Nashville, relying on Dubnyk in between as the Predators outshot Minnesota 23-9 over the final two periods.
“We’ve got a solid team and a great goalie right now,” said veteran Minnesota center Eric Staal who scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season on Thursday. “We got the job done, now we’ve got to keep going, big one on Saturday.”
It appears as though Arizona may catch a break as Wild backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the nod from Boudreau in Saturday’s matinee match-up. Kuemper is 2-2-1 this season and was in goal for Minnesota’s last regulation loss on Nov. 29 in Vancouver.
Not that it would necessarily matter to Arizona, however, as the Coyotes have played well of late in St. Paul. While Minnesota has had the upper hand in the last 11 overall meetings between the clubs (8-1-2), Arizona is 7-2-2 in its last 11 visits to Xcel Energy Center.
Boudreau knows full well what his team is up against.
“I’ve played that team a lot and they’ve always, always been a tough team to play against and I don’t expect anything different,” Boudreau said. “(Arizona coach Dave Tippett) is a very structured coach and they will play their game. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. If anybody thinks it is then they’re vastly mistaken.”
After dropping six in a row, the Coyotes have won three of four and two straight on this road trip after Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over Toronto. Much like the Wild, goaltending has been a huge factor in Arizona’s surge.
Coyotes starting goaltender Mike Smith stopped 125 of 129 shots in that trio of wins, including 44 against a Maple Leafs team whose offense has proven to be quite potent at Air Canada Center.
“He was really good, excellent,” Tippett said. “That’s what you’ve seen from him the last little bit here. We’re still giving up too many chances but he’s been there to clean a lot of it up.”
Smith has indeed had a lot to clean up for an Arizona team allowing a league-high 35.8 shots per game. Despite playing just 16 games due to a knee injury costing him a dozen potential starts, Smith has faced 40 or more shots six times which leads the NHL.
Smith set a career-high and a franchise record for saves in a game when he stopped 58 of 60 Columbus shots in a Dec. 3 shootout loss to the Blue Jackets. The 58 saves were also the most saves in a game by any NHL goalie this season and it was only the 4th time in the last 25 years a goalie had 58 saves or more in a regular season game.
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