GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes are going for a crucial sweep of their three-game homestand tonight, a cause that will be helped by the return of their No. 1 goalie between the pipes against the Colorado Avalanche.
Mike Smith, who hasn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury in a collision with Vancouver’s Alexander Edler on March 23, is back in the lineup as the Coyotes try to stay in the playoff hunt and extend their points streak to six games. Phoenix is 3-0-2 since a troubling stretch in which they lost six straight games.
“I expect him to play like a No. 1 goaltender,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said of Smith. “Last year, he missed a few games and when he came back we went on a run and we’re looking for the same thing to happen now.”
Smith hasn’t been the same goalie that led the Coyotes to the franchise’s first Western Conference Final berth last season. Four of his 11 wins are shutouts, but his 2.83 goals-against average and .901 save percentage are a shadow of last season’s 2.21 and .930 numbers.
Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Coyotes gutted out a 4-2 win despite having more than half a dozen players dealing with a nasty flu bug. It’s still running through the team and defensemen Keith Yandle and David Schlemko were unable to skate Saturday morning due to the bug. Tippett said he expects both to be able to play Saturday.
With wing Lauri Korpikoski and defenseman Zbynek Michalek both still out with injuries, David Rundblad and Alexandre Bolduc were called up on an emergency basis from Portland of the American Hockey League on Friday. They will only play if Yandle or Schlemko can’t suit up. Goalie Jason LaBarbera is still flu-ridden, so Chad Johnson – who beat the Red Wings Thursday and is 2-0-1 in three starts this season – will be Smith’s backup.
Against the Red Wings, Chris Conner, another in a long line of call-ups from Portland this season, scored in his first game as a Coyote. But while the Coyotes keep winning, the teams ahead and around them in the standings are piling up points as well.
“We got four of six points (1-0-2) on the road trip last week and if we can win tonight [to sweep three games at home] we can go on the road with a lot of momentum,” Tippett said. “There is a belief in the room that we can do this, but all the talk in the world won’t do it. We have to do it on the ice.”
Here are the projected lineups for the Phoenix Coyotes: