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Blue Jackets Try for Back-to-Back Road Wins, in Phoenix

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets

A flurry of trading deadline deals sent away many of the Phoenix Coyotes established veterans, but they're getting production from their young prospects as they start focusing on next season.

Phoenix (27-34-3) returns home after a three-game road swing to meet the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night in the season-series finale.

The Coyotes recently shipped off veterans Georges Laraque, Ladislav Nagy, Yanic Perreault and Oleg Saprykin ahead of Tuesday's NHL trading deadline, going with a less-experienced roster which includes Bill Thomas and Yanick Lehoux.

Thomas, a 23-year-old right wing, scored his first two goals of the season Thursday night, but the Coyotes fell to Vancouver 4-3 for their sixth loss in seven road games.

"Right now, anything I can do to help build for next season is what I'm going to do," said Thomas, a former college star at Nebraska-Omaha.

Lehoux, a center who turns 25 in April, was recalled Feb. 24 from San Antonio of the AHL. He scored his first NHL goal of the season in a 3-0 win over Edmonton on Tuesday, and added an assist in the loss to the Canucks.

Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said his younger club also is adapting to a new style of play.

"I loved the way our guys battled again tonight," Gretzky said after Thursday's defeat. "They played hard and changed their style to be a little more aggressive."

One veteran Phoenix decided to keep was right wing Shane Doan. Signed to a new $22.5 million, five-year contract on Feb. 15, the Coyotes' leading scorer has two goals and four assists during a season-high four-game point streak.

Phoenix's power-play unit also has shown signs of improvement. The Coyotes had five goals in nine chances with the man advantage on the road trip after going 0-for-22 in their previous five games.

The Coyotes, who are tied with Columbus (25-33-7) for 12th in the Western Conference with 57 points, will be trying to win their third straight from the Blue Jackets - a team coming off a big win against a playoff hopeful.

Jason Chimera scored the lone shootout goal Friday as Columbus defeated Dallas 3-2. Manny Malhotra and Sergei Fedorov scored in regulation, and Fredrik Norrena made 22 saves and denied all three Dallas shootout attempts in the Blue Jackets' third straight win over the Stars.

"We were joking that we better not get into a shootout," said Chimera after the Blue Jackets improved to 3-5 in shootouts this season. "But that was exciting. That's a fun time of the game."

Columbus now will try to win consecutive road games for the first time since a season-high four-game run from Dec. 2-12 - a streak that ended with a shootout loss in Phoenix on Dec. 14. The Blue Jackets are 1-6-1 with three ties all-time on the road against the Coyotes.

Rick Nash, who scored twice in the final 1:56 Tuesday during a 3-2 loss at Colorado, managed only two shots on goal versus Dallas. He had two goals and four assists in the Blue Jackets' first two games against Phoenix this season.

Nash leads Columbus with only 19 goals after scoring 31 last season and 41 in 2003-04.

Columbus will be without 15-year veteran defenseman Adam Foote for this game after he suffered a sprained ankle 94 seconds into win over the Stars.


- Associated Press

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