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Blackhawks look to stay without regulation loss

by David Kalan

BLACKHAWKS (8-0-2) at COYOTES (4-4-2)


Season series: This is the second meeting between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes, who faced off on the second day of the season at Arena. The Blackhawks won, 6-4.

Big story: Could anyone beat the Blackhawks if they had only 60 minutes? That will be the Coyotes' task Thursday night, and it's one no one, including Phoenix, has been able to pull off. The Blackhawks haven't lost in regulation -- or before a shootout -- this season, and the Coyotes, already five points out of first place in the Pacific Division, could use a win over a top opponent before heading out on a three-game road trip.

Team scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago started its season with a franchise-record six straight wins, and now the Blackhawks' start is encroaching on being historic for the League. The team has played its first 10 games, a full 20.8 percent of its schedule in the 2012-13 season, without suffering a regulation loss. As a result, the Blackhawks sit atop the NHL standings with 18 points, and the only team close to them, the San Jose Sharks, gave Chicago their best shot Tuesday night at HP Pavilion, taking a 3-1 lead in the first period before limping away with a 5-3 loss.

This is made all the more remarkable considering the Blackhawks are nearing the end of a six-game road trip, Sunday night at the Nashville Predators. After that, Chicago is home for seven straight, meaning should the Blackhawks survive the Coyotes and Predators, they can take aim matching the most games without a regulation loss to start a season, a 12-0-4 stretch accomplished by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. Chicago would like to match Anaheim in more ways than one: Those Ducks won the Stanley Cup.

Coyotes: After the most successful season in franchise history, the Coyotes' start in 2012-13 was among the most inconsistent across the League, but Phoenix may be finding its groove. The Coyotes are coming off consecutive victories for the first time after topping the Minnesota Wild on Monday, 2-1. That win came on the heels of a 2-0 shutout victory against the Dallas Stars, which also may have featured goalie Mike Smith's return to form. The back end of a home-and-home set with the Stars was Smith's second start in a row after missing more than a week with a groin injury.

Smith was a crucial part of the Coyotes' success last season so it is probably not a coincidence that Phoenix won one of its four games when he was out of the lineup. Since his return, Phoenix has gone 2-0-1, with the lone loss coming in a shootout, and the team hasn't lost in regulation in its past four.

In addition to Smith's solid play, the fact he has faced a total of 39 shots in his past two games would seem to indicate Phoenix is back to its suffocating defensive ways. The dangerous Blackhawks will be a litmus test for the Coyotes' back end, but the results could signal Phoenix is ready to roll.

Who's hot: Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored twice in the comeback win against the Sharks, giving him four goals in the past three games. ... Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal has three goals and an assist in his past three games.

Injury report: Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body) is questionable. … The Coyotes could be without forward Matt Lombardi (upper body) for all of February. Defenseman David Schlemko (shoulder injury) is out indefinitely.

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