Phoenix Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett made a difficult call two games ago.
He scratched Mike Ribeiro, one of the team’s leading scorers and big-name free agent prize last summer. And then he scratched him again, pretty much saying the Coyotes had a better chance to win without him in the lineup.
The Coyotes won both games, and Ribeiro could miss a third game in a row when Phoenix hosts the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, in a critical Western Conference wild card battle. It was a tough call to make, Tippett made it, and the Coyotes didn’t suffer for it.
Now it’s Mike Yeo’s turn to make a statement by scratching a big name veteran. Although it probably was an easier call from a gameplay perspective.
For the first time in his career, winger Dany Heatley will be a healthy scratch.
Stephane Veilleux joins the lineup in place of Heatley, he of the $7.5 million cap hit and 12 goals in 75 games.
Heatley hadn’t cracked 13 minutes of ice time in his last four games. He also hadn’t scored a goal since Feb. 27.
Before recent games at St. Louis and Detroit, Yeo almost hinted that pulling Heatley from the lineup was close. But he was playing him because he’s still a power-play guy, etc. But after seeing those two costly turnovers in the final minute of the first period that led to T.J. Oshie’s momentum-turning, back-breaking shorthanded goal (remember, even though it was a 5-1 defeat, everything was fine there even if the Wild just get out of that period down 1-0), there comes a point for accountability if a player isn’t helping. He’s minus-18 and minus-7 in his past five games, with four shots and one assist in the past 11.
So Heatley sits in an absolutely huge game for the Wild.
They lead Phoenix by one point, 85-84, as both teams have eight games left. Minnesota has lost two straight and is in a 3-4-3 slide. The Coyotes have won two straight and is on a 7-2-1 surge, despite losing starting goalie Mike Smith to injury five days ago.
Thomas Greiss gets another start for Phoenix against Ilya Bryzgalov, which tells you a lot about where Yeo thinks Darcy Kuemper's head is after giving up a 5-spot to the Blues.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars, who trail the Wild by four points and Phoenix by three with a game in-hand, is in St. Louis.