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Coyotes expect Smith back to face Stars

by Pete Jensen

COYOTES (2-4-1) at STARS (2-4-1)

TV: FS-Arizona+, FS-Southwest+

Season series: Friday's game at American Airlines Center is the opening leg of a home-and-home series that will conclude Saturday at Arena. The prior meeting this season came in the season opener Jan. 19, when Loui Eriksson scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lift the Stars to a 4-3 win. After the set this week, the teams wrap up their head-to-head slate March 9 in Glendale, Ariz.

Big story: The Coyotes expect to welcome back starting goaltender Mike Smith, who missed the team's prior four games with a lower-body injury.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: It's been a roller-coaster four-game stretch since Smith went down with a groin injury on Jan. 23. After Jason LaBarbera lost consecutive starts to the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix called up Chad Johnson from the American Hockey League for home games against the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers. Johnson stopped 40 of 42 shots to help the Coyotes earn three of a possible four points.

Despite those strong starts from Johnson, Phoenix remains among the League's bottom-10 teams in goals allowed per game (3.14). The return of Smith should provide the Coyotes with much-needed stability on the back end.

"I think we've played a lot better as of late ... so it's an exciting time to get back in," Smith told the team's website.

Stars: Speaking of absences, the Stars have had their fair share as of late. Jaromir Jagr missed Saturday's game against the St. Louis Blues, Jamie Benn has appeared in two games after recently signing a new five-year contract and the team has placed Derek Roy on injured reserve. The chemistry on the offensive end has suffered as a result of so much lineup inconsistency.

The Stars are winless in their past four games with seven goals in that span. On Wednesday, the team recalled its 2011 first-round pick, Texas Stars' defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who will make his NHL debut Friday. General manager Joe Nieuwendyk is hopeful the addition of the 6-foot-7 standout, who played in the AHL All-Star Game earlier this week, can spark the club offensively.

"I think to have a presence like that on the blue line, and if we can blend him in with the D that we have to take a look, I don’t think it’s a bad thing," Nieuwendyk told the team's website. "To say that he brings size is an understatement. There aren’t too many 6-7 guys in the League."

Who's hot: Phoenix forward Nick Johnson, who was recalled from the Portland Pirates of the AHL last week, has two goals and an assist over his past two games. … Eriksson has two goals in his past four games.

Injury report: The Coyotes are without Matthew Lombardi (upper body) and Rostislav Klesla (lower body). The status of forwards Martin Hanzal (lower body) and Steve Sullivan (lower body) remains unclear. … The Stars will be without Roy (groin) and backup goalie Cristopher Nilstorp (groin).

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