The Maple Leafs face the Coyotes tonight in their first match of the season. The second and final game will be next week, Friday December 23rd. Both games carry heavy significance because of the Leafs new young star Auston Matthews, who was raised in Scottsdale Arizona.
Matthews became a hockey fan solely because of the presence of the Coyotes. If not for them, he would now likely be playing NCAA baseball.
There are more stories about these two games than Matthews. I asked Brendan Porter, Managing Editor of Five For Howling, three questions of interest to Leafs fans about the Coyotes.
1) Where is Peter Holland fitting in on the Coyotes, and what are your first impressions?
Peter Holland will slot in in Arizona's bottom-six as a replacement for Brad Richardson, who broke both his tibia and fibula in a freak collision about two weeks ago. He had a pair of assists in his debut on Tuesday, which is about as good of an introduction as you can have.
Holland will be called upon to help the Coyotes suppress shots; Arizona is worst in the league at conceding chances on net with 35.5 shots per game allowed. Arizona needs to possess the puck more and needs to prevent opposing teams from being productive when they have the puck. Holland should help the Coyotes accomplish both.
2) Is Mike Smith really this good, or has he had a hot streak?
Mike Smith's contract has been maligned as one of the worst in the NHL, but what a lot of people don't remember is the year he earned it, he had a .930 save percentage with eight shutouts in the 2011-12 season, and he had a .944 save percentage and three shutouts in the 2012 playoffs.
He hasn't quite been able to replicate those numbers since, though he does have a .929 save percentage in 15 appearances this year. But when he's healthy, he's definitely better than he gets credit for. And right now, he's healthy.
3) What is Max Domi's status, and how big of a loss is it with him out. Should he have simply skated away rather than get in that fight?
Asking a Domi to not fight is a lot like asking Wayne Gretzky to not score. It's just not going to happen. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, Max's skill-set is much more appropriate for the ice than the penalty box. The fact that he chose to fight Garnet Hathaway - a guy with seven career points in 28 career games - for a late hit that was nonetheless not dangerous is even more aggravating, because even assuming Domi doesn't get hurt, that trade benefits Calgary in the five minutes they're both sitting in the box.
The Coyotes lost their second leading scorer this season when Domi went down, which is never good. But Arizona has needed to get some of their younger players like Anthony Duclair and Christian Dvorak going. Maybe this will be the impetus for them to step up. And if nothing else, maybe this will help Max Domi pick his battle more judiciously.
Tonight’s game is at 7:30 PM EST. My full game preview is here.