VANCOUVER -- Mike Smith is the hottest goaltender in the League and the NHL's First Star of the Week, but the Coyotes will try to continue their sizzling streak without him Monday night, turning instead to backup Jason LaBarbera against the Canucks, who are on a roll of their own.
LaBarbera is 4-1-0 against a Vancouver team he played nine games for in 2008-09, but Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said the decision was more about getting Smith some time off to work with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke. Smith, who hasn't lost in five February games while posting a 1.19 goals-against average and .962 save percentage, has started 11 straight, and 16 of 17 since returning from injury on Jan. 3.
"It's a combination of a four day break mentally and physically and two days to work with Sean Burke and tune things up," said Tippett, whose Coyotes don't play again until Thursday in Los Angeles. "It's important for any goaltender, and when you are playing so many in a row it's hard to find those times where you can tweak your game."
Phoenix has used its first five-game win streak of the season to move into eighth place in the tight, tough Western Conference, but has little margin for error against a Canucks team that hasn't lost in regulation since mid-January amid a 6-0-3 run of their own.
LaBarbera knows how dangerous their attack can be, but looks forward to facing it.
"I don't know about local knowledge, it's just exciting for me to play here," he said of past success. "I grew up here, got to play here and it's a fun building to play in."
For the Canucks, defenseman Keith Ballard will miss a third straight game with what could either be a concussion of neck injury -- coach Alain Vigneauilt said the team still isn't sure -- and Chris Higgins is skating again but not quite ready to return after an adverse reaction to medication for recurring staph infections caused him to lose more than 10 pounds.
So expect the Canucks to start against the Coyotes the same way they finished in a 3-2 shootout loss in Calgary on Saturday, though the way Vigneault has been playing Yahtzee with his forward lines, they may not finish that way.
Here are the projected lineups:
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Taylor Pyatt
Raffi Torres - Kyle Chipchura - Gilbert Brule
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rostislav Klesla
Michal Rozsival - Derek Morris
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Jannik Hansen - Cody Hodgson - Byron Bitz
Mike Duco - Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome