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Coyotes after improvement despite fast start

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes are off to their best start in more than a decade, but even with a four-game winning streak and the NHL's most potent defense, coach Dave Tippett is still tinkering with his lineup and looking for more production.

After allowing 50 shots and needing 48 saves from goalie Mike Smith to pull out a 3-2 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, Tippett juggled his defense pairings at the morning skate Tuesday, splitting up Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek for the first time this season.

Turnovers and defensive zone coverage remain a concern for the Coyotes, who have allowed 46 goals in their first 15 games and been forced to come from behind in several of them. The Coyotes face the equally hot Vancouver Canucks in another big Pacific Division matchup Tuesday at Arena.

Ekman-Larsson skated with Michael Stone and Michalek was paired with Rostislav Klesla, who could return to the lineup after missing eight of the first 15 games, including the last four, with injuries. Derek Morris and Keith Yandle, who have combined for 21 points in the first 15 games of the season, were the only pair that remained intact.

Michalek will play in his 600th NHL game Tuesday.

Smith was brilliant against the Sharks, winning his sixth straight decision and stopping four of five San Jose skaters in the shootout. In two games against San Jose this year, Smith has faced 100 shots and made 95 saves, but Smith said the game was decidedly different from the 4-1 loss at San Jose on Oct. 5.

"We came a long way as a team from that game," Smith said. "We're still not where we want to be, but we've improved a lot in many ways. We're happy with the season so far, but we have to get better. The Pacific is the best division in the League and there's no time to let off the gas pedal."

After facing the Canucks, who are 7-2-1 in their past 10 and just a point behind the Coyotes, Phoenix plays the second of a tough back-to back against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Four of the top six teams in the Western Conference -- the Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes and Canucks -- come from the Pacific Division.

The Canucks are 6-2-1 on the road this season and 4-0-1 in their past five trips to Arizona.

Here's how the lines could look Tuesday night:


Daniel SedinHenrik SedinRyan Kesler

Chris HigginsMike SantorelliAlexandre Burrows

Darren ArchibaldBrad RichardsonZack Kassian

Tom SestitoJeremy WelshYannick Weber

Alexander EdlerJason Garrison

Dan HamhuisChristopher Tanev ???

Ryan StantonKevin Bieksa

Roberto Luongo

Eddie Lack

Scratched: Andrew Alberts

Injured: Jordan Schroeder (foot), Jannik Hansen (upper body), Dale Weise (lower body)


Shane Doan - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Rob Klinkhammer - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker

Lauri Korpikoski- Mike Ribeiro - David Moss

Paul Bissonnette- Kyle Chipchura -- Jordan Szwarz

Oliver Ekman-LarssonMichael Stone

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris

Rostislav KleslaZbynek Michalek

Mike Smith

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Andy Miele, David Rundblad

Injured: David Schlemko (lower body), Jeff Halpern (upper body)

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