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Coyotes continue chase of Canucks in Pacific

by Brian Hunter

COYOTES (24-18-9) at CANUCKS (26-17-9)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-6-0; Vancouver 3-5-2

Season series: It's the fourth of five games between the Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks. Each of the first three has been decided by a single goal and won by the home team. Phoenix won 3-2 on Nov. 5 as Antoine Vermette scored in the shootout. Vancouver responded for a 3-2 win of its own Dec. 6 on an overtime goal by Chris Higgins. And most recently, Mike Smith made 29 saves and Vermette scored the lone goal as the Coyotes blanked the Canucks 1-0 on Jan. 16.

Big story: This is the proverbial "four-point game" in the sense that Phoenix could pull within two points of Vancouver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference or find itself six points out, depending on who wins and whether the victory is in regulation. The Coyotes will still hold a game in hand regardless of the outcome, but with almost two-thirds of the season in the books this is about as big as it gets for the end of January.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: A three-game road trip through Western Canada concludes for Phoenix, which will then have six games remaining before the Olympic break, including five straight on home ice.

It will more than likely take a complete, 60-minute effort for the Coyotes to get points out of Rogers Arena, but they managed to get away with a little less than that Friday in edging the Edmonton Oilers to stop a two-game losing streak. Mike Ribeiro's goal three minutes into the second period gave them a four-goal cushion and they needed all of it, winning 4-3.

"We've got to keep pushing now," said forward Mikkel Boedker, who tied Vermette for the team lead with his 15th goal to open the scoring. "There's not that much left until the break and we might as well leave it all out there. We need points and we need valuable points, and we need to climb in the standings. Coming up here in Vancouver we need the next two points."

Canucks: While goal prevention continues to be a strength for Vancouver, in the NHL's top 10 defensively, the Canucks are in the bottom third in offense. They're currently missing forwards Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli, while Daniel Sedin has one assist in his past six games and no goals in 11 games this month.

With the Canucks' power play also toward the bottom of the League at 14.3 percent efficiency, special teams has come into focus. They went 0-for-5 in a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

"We're still a confident group out there and we moved the puck very well and got some good chances," Daniel Sedin said in the Vancouver Province. "We made some good plays, but you can't keep saying that, we've got to have the goals."

Who's hot: Ribeiro has two goals and two assists during a three-game point streak for the Coyotes. … Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo has stopped 83 of 88 shots (.943 save percentage) in three starts since returning from injury.

Injury report: Phoenix has a healthy roster with the return of forward Martin Hanzal against Edmonton. … Henrik Sedin (ribs) has missed the past two games for Vancouver. Santorelli (shoulder) and defenseman Andrew Alberts (concussion) are on injured reserve.

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