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Still Just a Rat in a Cage: Blackhawks vs. Coyotes Preview

The newest division rivalry begins with both teams at the bottom of the standings

Chicago Blackhawks v Arizona Coyotes
Conor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes prepares for play against Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks
Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

(Editor’s note: This game is being broadcast exclusively on ESPN+ and will not be viewable by any of the traditional cable methods. Based on our research, those with Hulu accounts should also be able to watch this game on that app. Prepare your viewing habits accordingly.)

In a matchup of the two worst teams in the Central Division so far this season, the Blackhawks will host the Coyotes for the first time as divisional rivals on Friday, hoping to get their third win under new coach Derek “Baby Yoda” King — make the nickname stick, people.

The last time these two teams met was Feb. 1, 2020 when the Blackhawks beat the Coyotes 3-2. The last time the Coyotes were in town was nearly two years ago, when the Blackhawks lost in a shootout 4-3 on Dec. 8, 2019.

The Coyotes are 1-11-1 this season, with their most recent game being a 5-2 loss against the Wild. Five of their players — including Nick Schmaltz, Conor Timmins, Ryan Dzingel, Alex Galchenyuk and goaltender Carter Hutton — are hurt, and the Coyotes actively look like they’re trying to get Shane Wright, the early favorite for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Arizona got half of their bottom six on this year’s roster in a trade with the Canucks, as they sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to Vancouver for the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft (used to select Dylan Guenther). The Coyotes didn’t have their own first-round pick in the draft because of shenanigans pulled by former general manager John Chayka.

Also gone from last year’s Coyotes roster are Christian Dvorak (traded to the Canadiens), Alex Goligoski, Derrick Brassard, Michael Bunting, Tyler Pitlick, Jordan Oesterle, John Hayden, Drake Caggiula, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers. The Coyotes also gave up both of their goaltenders from last season: Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper.

This season, the Coyotes are led by Shayne Gostisbehere, who has 11 points in 13 games and came to Arizona in a trade with the Flyers that also allowed Arizona to add a second and seventh-round pick to make up for the $4.5 million cap hit that Gostisbehere carries for this season and the next. Lawson Crouse and Clayton Keller are tied for second on the team with six points apiece in 13 games.

Arizona, as a franchise, is in a sad, sad state and is clearly rebuilding with new GM Bill Armstrong, son of the Blues’ Doug Armstrong.

Meanwhile, it has been announced since Tuesday’s game that Brandon Hagel will likely miss two weeks, while Wyatt Kalynuk remains on an apparent conditioning stint with the IceHogs after scoring a goal in Wednesday’s game against the Iowa Wild. Based on the morning skate, though, it appears that Caleb Jones will make his season debut in place of Riley Stillman:

Henrik Borgstrom, who has been dealing with a non-COVID related illness, will be back against the Coyotes while Tyler Johnson has been removed from COVID-19 protocol but is still not game-ready. Marc-Andre Fleury starts in net.

In a battle of two of the teams at the bottom of the standings, the Blackhawks getting healthy and getting good results with the new coaching staff could make the difference.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Coyotes

44.17% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 46.08% (26th)

40.95% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 45.66% (27th)

2.14 (30th) — Goals per game — 1.62 (31st)

3.57 (30th) — Goals against per game — 4.08 (32nd)

49.5% (20th) — Faceoffs — 47.7% (26th)

20% (17th) — Power play — 9.7% (31st)

88.9% (3rd) — Penalty kill — 63.4% (32nd)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Dach — Kane

Kubalik — Toews — Khaira

Kurashev — Strome — Borgstrom

R. Johnson — Carpenter — Hardman

McCabe — S. Jones

de Haan — Murphy

Gustafsson — C. Jones

Fleury

Lankinen

Coyotes

Ladd — Hayton — Keller

Crouse — Larsson — Kessel

Eriksson — Boyd — Fischer

Roussel — Beagle — Jaskin

Chychrun — Stralman

Dineen — Lyubushkin

Gostisbehere — Mayo

Wedgewood

Vejmelka

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

Live stream: ESPN+, Hulu