Sizing up the Vancouver Canucks’ Division Rivals: Arizona Coyotes

The Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes seem to be two of a handful of teams ready to battle it out for the final few playoff spots in the West. While games against every division opponent is important, I’d venture to say that the 5 contests with the Arizona Coyotes would have the most direct impact on Vancouver’s playoffs hopes.

Arizona is a deceptively solid squad. They may not have the most eye-popping lineup, but Head Coach Dave Tippett has a disciplined team that won’t beat itself and enough talent to be more than capable offensively. The loss of Mike Ribeiro, although important, won’t be as detrimental to the Coyotes as some may have you believe.

Expect the Coyotes to be in the thick of the playoff race all season long and Vancouver will have to take as many points as they can away from the Coyotes if they are to have a shot at the postseason.

Arizona would be a close NHL market to Las Vegas (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Arizona would be a close NHL market to Las Vegas (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Last Year’s Record and Key Dates to Remember

            The Vancouver Canucks played fairly well against Arizona last season, compiling a record of 2-2-1. A .500 record and shootout loss won’t be good enough for Vancouver this season, but at least the Canucks weren’t as listless a year ago against Arizona as they were against other division opponents.

This season’s match ups:

November 14, 2014 in Vancouver

December 22, 2014 in Vancouver

March 5, 2015 in Glendale

March 22, 2015 in Glendale

April 9, 2015 in Vancouver

The schedule sets up in such a way it’s as if the schedule makers knew Vancouver and Arizona would be battling neck and neck for the final few playoff spots. The majority of the contests come in March and April, a time of the season where the playoff push really heats up.

As mentioned previously, the games against Arizona are of the utmost importance for the Canucks and the schedule puts even more emphasis on these ties. The April 9th game, especially, may turn out to be a make or break contest for the Canucks’ playoff hopes.

When Vancouver and Arizona face off, the games are usually not the most excited contests of the season. But this year’s crop of games have enough significance to really inject some life into the two combatants.

The Vancouver Canucks’ Radim Vrbata faces his old Team

           Mike Ribeiro’s departure won’t hurt Arizona that badly, but Radim Vrbata’s just might. Vancouver Canucks General Manager sought to shore up the right wing position by bringing Vrbata in, and in the process Benning weakened the depth on Arizona’s right side.

(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Weakening depth doesn’t mean the Coyotes’ right wingers are a weak spot. They are quite the opposite, as Arizona boats good talent on the right side of the ice. Mikkel Boedker is only 24 and coming off a 51 point campaign. Shane Doan seems to be ageless and will give Arizona quality minutes night in and night out. The problem is that the Coyotes’ would be a better team with Vrbata than without him.

Arizona had the cap space, some $11 million, to sign Vrbata, but maybe General Manager Don Maloney was looking into his magic 8 ball and saw a large Keith Yandle extension in his future.

Radim Vrbata doesn’t seem to be a player that would carry an overly large chip on his shoulder so don’t expect him to provide any sound clips about feeling disrespected a la the Baltimore Ravens’ Steve Smith.

A common theme has emerged with the Canucks and their division rivals in that Vancouver has a lineup that either features some of their rival’s former players or they will be going up against former Canucks. The arms race in the West over the summer has seeped into the Pacific Division, as each team knew they had to bolster their roster if they are to find any success in this highly competitive conference.

Key Match up of the Series: Left Wing

While the Arizona Coyotes’ right wing is particularly strong, the same can’t be said for the left side. The projected top three left wingers for Arizona, Lauri Korpikoski, Martin Erat and Kyle Chipchura, combined for just 17 goals a season ago, 9 of which came from Korpikoski.

The left side of Vancouver’s line up can’t get too full of themselves either, as Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins are all coming off somewhat disappointing years. Aside from Keith Yandle, the left wingers of Vancouver will be facing Michael Stone and Connor Murphy on defense while Arizona’s wingers have to deal with Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler and Ryan Stanton.

Stone and Murphy are young, talented and have the potential to be good defensemen, however, heading into this season the left side of the ice matchup favours the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks defense can’t allow Korpikoski, Erat or Chipchura to find success as Vancouver will have their hands full with Arizona’s right wingers. This is a match up Vancouver will have to take advantage of if they are to find success against Arizona.

Come back to The Hockey Writers tomorrow for an extended look at the heated rivalry between Vancouver and the Edmonton Oilers.