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Call It in the Air: Blackhawks vs Coyotes Preview

The Blackhawks head to Arizona to play in 5,000-seat Mullet Arena for the very first time.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Arizona Coyotes Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks will face the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night after playing the Ducks in Anaheim late Monday.

The Coyotes are — just like the Blackhawks this season — what’s the term for it again? Oh, yeah: a flaming, melted wreckage where enjoyable hockey goes to die.

The two teams mirror each other’s shortcomings in just about every major statistical category, and Arizona’s roster is also mainly comprised of skaters playing out of their depth due to the desire to be bad enough to have a legitimate shot at drafting Connor Bedard.

The Coyotes do have some standout offensive players — most notably wingers Clayton Keller and old buddy, old pal Nick Schmaltz — who skate on their top line between Barrett Hayton. Keller (24 G, 32 A, 5.9 goals above expected) is playing at about a point-per-game pace while Schmaltz might be having the better season (17 G, 22 A, 6.4 goals above expected) even though he’s appeared in 16 fewer games due to an early-season injury. Crazy that Schmaltz has already been in Arizona for four seasons now.

Another offensive piece of the AZ future has emerged this season in (horribly offensive Italian guy voice) Matias Maccelli — who has one of the more bizarre statistical anomalies I can remember seeing of late in that he has almost as many points (29) as shots on goal (31).

The back end is where it gets real dicey in a hurry. Arizona’s best blue-liner (for now) is Jakob Chychrun — but he’s been a healthy scratch since the last time these two teams met way back on Feb. 10 as the Coyotes work to finally/mercifully trade him. Chychrun is also Arizona’s only regular with a positive shot share, just barely nudging above water at 50.4 percent.

With Chychrun somewhere out there in the shadow realm, the Coyotes top pairing is Juuso Valimaki and Shayne Gostisbehere — who’s had a nice mini-resurgence in Arizona after falling out of favor with the Flyers.

The Coyotes have gotten solid goaltending so far this year with both starter Karel Vejmelka and backup Connor Ingram being Top 30 in the league in goals saved above expected. Vejmelka’s 12.8 goals saved above expected actually ranks him 10th overall league-wide, but Ingram’s traditional goalie stats (a .908 save percentage and 3.30 goals against average) are just a tick better. Vejmelka has gotten the bulk of the starts for most of the season but for whatever reason there’s been a bit of a shift lately — possibly more trade considerations — and Ingram has started five of the last eight games.

The Blackhawks will head to Tempe in a state of minor flux as Patrick Kane continues to wait back in Chicago in anticipation that the trade to the Rangers will be finalized while Coach Luke Richardson works to build a lineup now bereft of both Jack McCabe and Sam Lafferty after their trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

This one feels like a true basement battle in the sense that someone has to win. You could argue that the race for Bedard is the closest thing to a rivalry these two teams have maybe ever had.

But anytime the Blackhawks face off against the Coyotes I’m always struck with the same thought; fuck you, Raffi Torres.

Tale of the Tape (statistics from this season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Coyotes

43.01% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 44.57% (30th)

39.09% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 44.16% (29th)

2.50 (31st) — Goals per game — 2.66 (28th)

3.57 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.53 (25th)

54.6% (3rd) — Faceoffs — 45.5% (31st)

17.3% (27th) — Power play — 19.1% (24th)

76.3% (21st) — Penalty kill — 74.8% (26th)

How to watch

When: 8 p.m. CT

Where: Mullet Arena, Tempe, AZ

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720