As if the Phoenix Coyotes' road trip wasn't already off to a disappointing start, Monday's 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins doesn't make things any easier for the Yotes. Typically a solid road team, the Coyotes were outplayed in every facet in the game, en route to the dismantling they received from Evgeni Malkin and the Pens.
Despite allowing five goals to Pittsburgh, Jason LaBarbera will be back in the crease for Thursday's contest against the Sharks. The loss put LaBarbera a game under .500, at 3-4-1 on the season. He had been 3-0-1 in his last four up to that point. Ilya Bryzgalov is not expected back until after Christmas with that upper-body injury.
In his career, LaBarbera has won just three of his nine starts against the Sharks, but his GAA isn't terrible at 2.25. Still, the lack of a real alternative left LaBarbera as the only real choice for Phoenix.
LaBarbera will be going head-to-head with one of the NHL's best, and most surprising, goaltenders. A former castoff of the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning, Antero Niittymaki has resurrected his career in San Jose. The Finnish netminder is 12-3-3 on the season, outplaying last year's Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi.
Mikkel Boedker, who was called up from San Antonio on Wednesday, is expected to be in the lineup for the Coyotes. He will most likely take the place of Taylor Pyatt, who was injured in a scrap with the Pens' Deryk Engelland, which resulted in a beat down of Pyatt.
The key for the Coyotes will be on special teams. Their power play was a disaster on Monday night, with the Penguins controlling much of the pace even when they were a man down. Staying out of the box will be as important as it has been all season, with San Jose boasting the league's sixth-best power play unit.
As much as the Coyotes have struggled on this road trip, they have a chance to put it behind them with two key matchups against division opponents. It starts on Thursday night against the Sharks. In the first of six meetings between these squads, it's crucial for the Yotes to get off on the right foot, or risk falling deeper into the standings.