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Avalanche-Coyotes Preview

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (19-17-3) at Phoenix Coyotes (20-17-2).

TIME: Saturday, 8 p.m. EST.

The Phoenix Coyotes seem to have been inspired by the return of coach Wayne Gretzky.

They'll try for their third straight victory when they host the slumping Colorado Avalanche.

The Coyotes beat the Los Angeles Kings 6-5 in overtime on Thursday, improving to 2-0 since Gretzky returned to the team following a 10-day leave of absence. Gretzky left the Coyotes to be with his mother, who died of lung cancer Dec. 19.

Phoenix, which has scored 11 goals in those two wins, recorded its second-largest goal total of the season in Thursday's win. The Coyotes beat Carolina 8-4 on Dec. 3.

Nonetheless, Gretzky doesn't necessarily want his team scoring so many goals.

"The fans enjoy the high-scoring games, but we need to keep the score lower," he said.

Rookie defenseman Keith Ballard scored two goals against the Kings, including the game-winner with 1:08 left in overtime, and Ladislav Nagy had a goal and three assists. Defenseman Paul Mara also had two goals.

"We've been working with our defensemen that when they get the puck, don't look to pass but take it to the net and try to score," Gretzky said.

Nagy has at least one assist in his last five games and 10 goals and 23 assists in his last 22 contests.

"(Nagy) did a great job tonight, and he's been great for us all year," said Ballard. "He's a great player and tonight was one of those nights."

Coyotes center Petr Nedved missed his third consecutive game because of a groin strain.

The Coyotes moved a point ahead of Colorado for eighth place in the Western Conference with Thursday's win. The Avalanche blew their chance to pull back ahead on Friday, falling 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks.

Joe Sakic and Alex Tanguay scored for the Avalanche, who have lost five of six on the road. Colorado has allowed five goals in three of its last four games, and has given up three or more in 10 of its last 11.

Sakic has a point in six of his last seven games and scored his third goal in the last three. He has not gone more than one game without a point this season and is within one goal of Guy Lafleur (560) for 18th on the career list.

Colorado has won the last four meetings between the teams.

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 41 points, 4th place, 7 PB, Northwest Division. Coyotes - 42 points, 3rd place, 8 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 20 goals; Tanguay, 28 assists; Sakic, 42 points; Ian Laperriere, 61 PIM. Coyotes - Mike Comrie, 14 goals; Nagy, 31 assists and 44 points; Sean O'Donnell, 73 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.5 percent (47 for 241), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (189 for 224), 8th. Coyotes - Power play: 19.1 percent (49 for 257), 7th. Penalty killing: 81.2 percent (198 for 244), 19th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - David Aebischer (11-9-0, 1 SO, 3.59 GAA); Peter Budaj (5-5-3, 2.86). Coyotes - Curtis Joseph (16-10-0, 2, 2.56); Brian Boucher (2-2-0, 3.14).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 26; Avalanche, 7-4. At Denver, Colorado rebounded from a 3-0 first-period deficit. Sakic had two goals and one assist.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 9-11-0 on the road; Coyotes - 11-7-1 at home.

Associated Press

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