The Phoenix Coyotes will return home to Jobing.com Arena for the first time in over two weeks, following their brutal six-game road trip. That trip saw Phoenix pick up just five points, including a win against the NHL doormat New York Islanders.
Phoenix's first tilt at home in over two weeks will pit them against the road weary Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim has been away from home for a while, as well. Tuesday's contest will be their seventh in a row away from the Honda Center. Their road fortunes haven't been much better than Phoenix, going 2-4 on their current six-game trip, which concludes on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Ducks' most recent loss was a 4-1 thumping from the Los Angeles Kings, in which Jonas Hiller was pulled after allowing all four goals in the second period. While there's a chance backup Curtis McElhinney could see action against the Yotes, Hiller's 10-3-2 record against Phoenix may indicate otherwise. McElhinney has never faced the Coyotes.
For the Coyotes, their questions in net may finally be solved. After starting all but one game of the road trip, Jason LaBarbera will return to the bench following the return of Ilya Bryzgalov. Anaheim was almost surely hoping that it was LaBarbera in net, despite his shutout on Sunday. Bryzgalov, who missed five games with an upper body injury, has blanked the Ducks in three of his last four starts against his former squad.
The key for Phoenix will be slowing that top Anaheim line. After failing to contain the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Marleau throughout the trip, the Coyotes' D finally came to play on Sunday in the shutout at Dallas. The Stars' top line that included Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, both on five-game point streaks, was unable to do much of anything against the Phoenix blueliners.
They'll be faced with a similar task in the young group of forwards that Anaheim brings to the table. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have combined for nine points in their last four, and have combined for 11 against the Yotes this season. There's also Bobby Ryan, who has 16 points in 17 career contests against Phoenix.
Part of the Coyotes' struggles lately has been their lack of an identity. Last season they were the Cinderella story in the NHL, grinding out every game and finishing in the top half of the Western Conference. This season, they've struggled to find chemistry on a consistent basis, particularly on the defensive end. A pair of contests with division opponents gives the Coyotes an opportunity to find themselves.
Tuesday's game marks the first of a back-to-back for the Coyotes, with both against division opponents. Late December and early January are when every game starts to count, meaning that the Coyotes need to find their identity in a short period of time.