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Smith pulling Coyotes into playoff position

Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 10:46 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Smith pulling Coyotes into playoff position
Phoenix's Mike Smith has been so strong lately that he's pulled the Coyotes into position in the top eight in the Western Conference.
Mike Smith spent the second half of last season in the minor leagues. A year later, he’s spending his winter trying to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to a playoff berth.

Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 23-14-7
GAA: 2.33 | SVP: 0.925
The Coyotes signed Smith as a free agent last summer after the Tampa Bay Lightning had sent him to the minors following the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson. Smith has been solid all season, but he’s stepped up his play in February, and especially in the past week.

Smith stopped everything the Chicago Blackhawks threw at him on Saturday in a 3-0 victory, capping a week that saw him go 4-0-0 while allowing just three goals. He’s been in goal for every second of the five-game winning streak that has carried the Coyotes into sole possession of eighth place in the West – quite a turnaround for someone who was riding the buses in the minors a year ago.

Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:

Carey Price – Like Smith, Price is trying to carry an underpowered team to a playoff berth. He went 4-0-0 in a seven-day span, capping his near-flawless week with a 5-0 victory in Toronto on Saturday night.

Evgeni Malkin – The NHL’s leading scorer continues to pile up points. He had five of them on Saturday in Pittsburgh’s 8-5 win against Winnipeg and is 3-5-8 during a four-game points streak.

Steven Stamkos – Malkin may lead the points race, but Stamkos looks like he’ll be a runaway winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Stamkos extended his goal-scoring streak to four games when he connected in Buffalo on Saturday, giving him a League-leading 37 – no one else has more than 30. His 62 points are five behind Malkin.

Jason Spezza – Ottawa’s No. 1 center continues to put up points, even as his team tries to battle its way out of a slump. He had two assists on Saturday and put up two goals and six points in three games last week

Joey MacDonald – With Jimmy Howard injured and Ty Conklin struggling, MacDonald has stepped in to keep the Red Wings on top of the overall standings. Since relieving Conklin after one period in Edmonton last Saturday, he’s 2-1-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Marian Hossa – He’s still 12th in the scoring race, but Hossa’s slump is a big part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ slide. The Hawks lost for the sixth time in as many games on their current trip when they were beaten 3-0 in Phoenix on Saturday – and Hossa hasn’t had a point in any of the six games.

Niklas Backstrom – It was a tough week for the Minnesota Wild and their starting goaltender, who allowed nine goals while losing all three of his starts as the Wild dropped out of the top eight in the West.

Marian Hossa
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 33 | PTS: 53
SOG: 176 | +/-: 18
James Reimer – No one better illustrates the ups and downs in the life of an NHL goaltender than Reimer, who went from pitching back-to-back shutouts for Toronto in his first two appearances after the All-Star break to allowing 11 goals in seven periods while losing two of three starts last week.

Pekka Rinne – Nashville’s star goaltender hasn’t been quite as impregnable since the All-Star break. He was 0-1-2 and allowed 10 goals last week, and has surrendered 15 goals in five starts since the break.

Tomas Holmstrom – One of the NHL’s great crease-crashers reached the 1,000-game mark in Detroit’s game against Anaheim on Friday -- but at age 39, his time may be running out. Holmstrom hasn’t had a point in nine games and has seen his ice time shaved to less than 10 minutes in the last two games.

Injuries, news and notes: Not even coaches are immune to the injury bug. Buffalo's Lindy Ruff is confined to the press box after breaking three ribs at practice last week. Edmonton's Tom Renney sat out a game after being hit in the head by a puck at practice on Monday.

Out -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the top pick in last June's NHL Draft, was knocked out of the Edmonton Oilers' lineup on Monday with a shoulder injury -- just two days after returning from a 13-game absence due to the same problem. … Columbus placed defenseman Mark Methot on IR after he suffered a broken jaw on Thursday. Forward Jared Boll went down with a broken foot in the same game, and goaltender Curtis Sanford sat out Saturday's game with a back problem. Defenseman Brett Lebda also went on IR with a broken thumb suffered a few days earlier. … The Islanders will be without defenseman Dylan Reese for at least a month after he went down with a sprained knee on Tuesday. The Isles placed him on IR. … Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray sat out Friday's game after suffering a foot injury on Thursday. … Los Angeles center Jarret Stoll suffered a hip muscle injury on Thursday and was placed on injured reserve. … Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko didn't make the trip to Philadelphia on Saturday due to a head injury sustained two nights earlier. … Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov didn't even dress for Philadelphia's last two games due to the flu. … Chicago put defenseman Steve Montador on IT with a back injury sustained on Tuesday. … Detroit forward Danny Cleary hasn't played since going down with a knee injury on Wednesday. … Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain sustained last Sunday. … Buffalo forward Cody McCormick left Friday’s game in the first period with an ankle injury and didn’t play Saturday. … Flames forward Blair Jones blocked a shot in overtime Thursday and will miss six weeks with a broken ankle. … Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Gilroy didn't return after sustaining an undisclosed upper body injury in the second period on Saturday night. … Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck took a hard hit on Saturday and left with a lower-body injury.

Jordan Staal
Center - PIT
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 23
SOG: 70 | +/-: 0
Returning -- They still don't have Sidney Crosby, but the Pittsburgh Penguins did get center Jordan Staal back on Saturday after he missed 15 games with a knee injury. … Buffalo's top scorer, Thomas Vanek, was back in the lineup Friday after missing three games with an upper-body injury. … Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu was in the lineup Thursday after a shoulder injury cost him eight games. … Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski was in the lineup Saturday for the first time since going down with an ankle injury on Dec. 29. … Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina returned Thursday after missing two games with a lacerated elbow. … Winnipeg got forward Evander Kane back on Tuesday after he missed seven games with a concussion. … Danny Briere's six-game absence due to a concussion ended Tuesday when he was back in the lineup for Philadelphia. … Steve Eminger was in the New York Rangers' lineup on Thursday; he hadn't played since Dec. 17 due to a separated shoulder. … Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert played Wednesday; it was his first appearance since leaving the Oilers' game on Jan. 2 with an ankle injury. … Montreal forward Travis Moen (upper body) played Tuesday for the first time since being injured on Jan. 21. … Tampa Bay forward Adam Hall was back in the Lightning's lineup on Tuesday after missing a month with a torn muscle in his forearm. …

Still out -- Stars captain Brenden Morrow is at least a week or two away from returning; he's battling a neck injury. … Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard was taking shots at practice on Friday and is scheduled to have his broken right index finger evaluated on Monday. … Boston forward Nathan Horton, out since Jan. 22, said his concussion symptoms returned when he started to skate last week, meaning he's not near being ready to return. … Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who's still recovering from knee surgery, may miss the entire season. There's still no timetable for him to begin skating. Forward Ryan Malone (upper body) missed his seventh straight game on Saturday but has started skating again.. … Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau is skating again as he works to come back from a concussion that has kept him out since Dec. 29. … New Jersey said center Travis Zajac is unlikely to play for at least another month. He's trying to recover from offseason Achilles surgery and hasn't played since Jan. 2. Defenseman Adam Larsson still isn't skating due to a back injury that has cost him five games. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht will have a non-surgical procedure on his neck as he tries to overcome a concussion. … San Jose's Martin Havlat is still not skating after undergoing surgery on Dec. 22 to repair a partially torn hamstring. … Washington's No. 1 center, Nicklas Backstrom, still isn't skating and has no idea when he'll be able to play again. He has been sidelined since Jan. 3 due to a concussion. …. Montreal's Michael Blunden is expected to miss 4-6 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Canadiens' defenseman Andrei Markov is skating, but there's no timetable for his return from knee surgery -- he hasn't played all season. … Florida forward Marco Sturm had knee surgery last week and is expected to miss at least another three weeks. …

The week ahead -- It will be a hectic week for the 10 teams that play four times in a seven-day span. Also, 10 teams play either three or four games on the road.

Games to watch:

San Jose at Washington (Feb. 13; NBCSP/TSN2) -- This is a tough back-to-back for both teams. The Sharks come to the Verizon Center after playing in St. Louis on Sunday; the Caps are home after a Sunday afternoon visit to New York.

New York Rangers at Boston (Feb. 14) -- Don't expect much Valentine’s Day affection from either side as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference get together for the second time this season at TD Garden.

Washington at Florida (Feb. 17) -- The top two teams in the Southeast Division get together for the third time this month when the Caps come to the BankAtlantic Center. They don't meet again until the final Thursday of the season.

Nashville at Detroit (Feb. 17; NHLN-US) -- The Wings, the NHL's best home team this season, figure to get a tough test from the Predators, who need the game as they try to catch Detroit for first place in the Central Division.

St. Louis at Chicago (Feb. 19; NBC) -- The Hawks play their first home game since before the All-Star break, though they could have drawn an easier opponent than the surging Blues.

Tough week ahead:

Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks started their eight-game trip on Friday and will spend the week away from Orange County by playing four times, including three games in a stretch of four days.

Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks play the last third of their nine-game trip this week, finishing up in Columbus on Saturday -- but then host St. Louis on Sunday afternoon, their third game in less than 72 hours.

San Jose Sharks -- Hard to believe, but the Sharks are on an even longer trip than the Ducks -- they began a nine-gamer in St. Louis on Sunday and play three Southeast Division teams before ending the week with a stop in Detroit.

Easy week ahead:

Florida Panthers -- No snow and ice for the Panthers this week. They're home in sunny South Florida for games against Ottawa (which is on the second half of a back-to-back), Washington and Anaheim, which will be playing its third game in four days.

Los Angeles Kings -- After a grueling six-game trip, the Kings get a break this week -- they play only two games, both at home, against teams (Phoenix and Calgary) that are behind them in the standings.

Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers also have a light week, with just two games (Buffalo and Pittsburgh), both at home.

Quote of the Day

I'm hoping Bob [Murray] didn't go out and get Dany Heatley just to get someone. I'm sure he's excited and motivated.

— Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on general manager Bob Murray's decision to sign Dany Heatley