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RED WINGS (3-3-1) at COYOTES (5-2-0)
Season series -- The teams are meeting for the first time this season. The Red Wings won three of four meetings last season, the last a 3-2 overtime win on March 10, 2009. Overall, the Wings have won 11 of the last 12 against the Coyotes.
Big story -- Phoenix is one of the season's early surprises with five wins in seven games, largely due to the NHL's stingiest defense (10 goals allowed in seven games). They continue a homestand against the inconsistent Wings, who are trying to get over .500 for the first time this season and have yet to win on the road.
Red Wings -- Since coming back from a two-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in Stockholm, Detroit has gone 3-1-1 to climb back to .500. Despite that, the Wings are still having their ups and downs. While their North American schedule did start off with impressive wins over Chicago and Washington, the Red Wings have also lost to Colorado in a shootout at the Joe. Thursday night's visit to Phoenix will be just Detroit's second North American road game of the season -- the first was a 6-2 drubbing in Buffalo last Tuesday.
The 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado was especially disappointing, since the Wings led 2-0 after two periods and 3-2 late in the game.
"It's disappointing having a 2-0 lead and 3-2 toward the end of the game," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We played a solid game. We had some breakdowns, especially on a couple of goals."
The loss of Johan Franzen after knee surgery has been an obstacle for the Wings, as has a slow start for Henrik Zetterberg, who only has one goal, and the disappointing play of Chris Osgood who has a 3.21 goals against average.
Coyotes -- For much of this summer people weren't sure if there would be hockey at all in Arizona this season. Not only did the Coyotes stay put, but they seem to be showing no ill effects from all the off-ice turmoil. New coach Dave Tippett has the Coyotes off to a 5-2-0 start, with four wins have come against playoff teams from a year ago, including an impressive road shutout of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ed Jovanovski, Radim Vrbata and Scottie Upshall are tied for the team lead with three goals each, while Shane Doan is steady as ever with six points on the young season. Most impressive, however, may be Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been a rock in net to the tune of five wins and a stunning 1.14 GAA.
"We've earned the record we have. It's not a fluke," said Doan, the team's leading scorer in each of the past five seasons. "We still have lots of areas where we can improve, but our goaltending has been phenomenal."
Who's hot -- Tomas Holmstrom was held scoreless in Detroit's shootout loss to Colorado, but the Swede had goals in four of the Wings' previous five games while compiling a five-game point streak. For Phoenix, Jovanovski and Upshall both have scored in two straight games, while Bryzgalov has won three straight starts, compiling a .959 save percentage.
Injury report -- While Franzen will be out at least four months, the Wings do have good news as 2009 Hart Trophy nominee Pavel Datsyuk is probable for Thursday. Phoenix should have a full lineup.
Stat pack -- Osgood is 5-0-0 with a 2.76 GAA in five games against Phoenix over the past two seasons. The Coyotes are 14-26-9-2 against the Wings since moving from Winnipeg in 1996.
Puck drop -- There is no denying Phoenix's early start has turned some heads, but perhaps it bears reminding that this team was in the thick of the playoff race for much of last season. With veterans like Doan meshing with a solid stable of younger talent and the experienced Tippett behind the bench, the Coyotes look like a team on the rise -- at least on the ice. They've historically struggled against the Wings, so a win would be another morale boost.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com