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Coyotes have reversed their fortunes against Wild

by Jerry Brown /
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was a time when the Minnesota Wild owned the Phoenix Coyotes and Niklas Backstrom was a brick wall they could not beat. But the tables have turned, and now Phoenix is looking for a sixth straight win over Minnesota on Thursday.

The Wild won 10 of 12 meetings against the Coyotes from 2006-09, with Backstom posting three shutouts and tormenting Phoenix. But Phoenix swept all four meetings during its renaissance season in 2009-10 and made it five straight with a 4-2 win in St. Paul on Dec. 1. That win came during a run that has seen the Coyotes collect points in 12 of the last 14 games (9-2-3), with different players taking the scoring lead.

Recently, the leader has been Scottie Upshall, who had 2 goals and an assist in the win over the Wild, continuing a long run of success against Minnesota. Dating back to his days with Nashville and Philadelphia, Upshall has 6 goals and 6 assists in his last eight games against the Wild. Now paired with ex-Wild center Eric Belanger and captain Shane Doan -- who broke out of a long scoring slump with a goal in Sunday's 3-0 win at Anaheim -- the Coyotes have three lines with consistent scoring punch to put on the ice.

The Coyotes are still looking for stability on defense and have recalled rookie defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson from San Antonio of the AHL, giving them eight defensemen on the roster. He will be in the starting lineup against Minnesota with either Sami Lepisto, David Schlemko or Nolan Yonkman filling the last spot.

The Wild aren't doing well against anyone these days. The loss to the Coyotes is part of a 1-5-2 stretch that has local fans grumbling. Like the Coyotes, scoring goals is a challenge when the Wild struggle and the Minnesota power play, which has produced just one goal in the last 29 chances, is a big part of the problem.

The Coyotes have it going on all fronts. While goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is 7-2-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last 10 starts, the power play led by defenseman Keith Yandle has produced at least one goal in seven of the last nine games. Even Doan, off to the slowest start of his 15-year NHL career, got into the act with his second goal. Doan now has six points (1-5-6) in three games against the Ducks and three points (1-2-3) in 12 games against the rest of the League.

Doan went from 31 goals in 2008-09 to 18 last year, but Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said the captain's value to the team is far greater than goals and points.

"Historically, he's scored and he's a guy who can get on a hot streak and get four or five goals in six games and then people aren't talking about his points so much," Tippett said. "But Shane contributes so much more than points to this team when it comes to leadership and presence on the ice. We'd like him to score more, but he recognizes the team concept we have here and how important he is to our success."
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