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Coyotes hoping to rediscover February success

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Maybe the Phoenix Coyotes should turn back the clock and put a February calendar on their dressing room wall.
Unbeaten in regulation (11-0-1) in February -- talk about a month to remember -- the Coyotes are winless so far in March, albeit in only two games.
But those two games were nothing like February, when they won six times by one-goal margins; they lost 4-2 to Calgary on Thursday and 5-2 to last-place Columbus on Saturday, both at home. Before that, they hadn't lost consecutive games since Dec. 23 and 26.
A March in which the Coyotes hoped to seal up a playoff spot -- they are tied with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead with 75 points, but went into Monday's games with the tiebreaker -- finds them playing nine times at home. First up, though, is a brief two-game road swing in which they play the streaking Penguins on Monday before they play a rematch with Columbus on Tuesday.
"We've got to playing back to playing how we were," coach Dave Tippett said following the morning skate Monday. "February, we had great record, but if you look at how we played, it was very much the identity of our team. We were 11-0-1, and nine of those games were one-goal games other than a couple of empty-netters that went in. And eight of those games we gave up one or less goals. You don't need brain surgery to figure out how we have to play."
The Coyotes aren't getting much from a power that ranks 30th and last in the League with a 13.5 percent conversion rate -- the Penguins' penalty kill is tied for second -- but they are maximizing their scoring.
They have only five more goals than their opponents, 170-165 (Boston, by contrast, has a 209-150 edge), yet they are tough to beat when they score first. They own a 26-4-5 record when getting the first goal, one reason why they are a combined 23-12-9 in games decided by one- or two-goal margins; they are only 10-11 in three-goal games.
"I think the last couple of games, we've gotten away from what made us successful in February, and that's doing a lot of little things right and having everybody in here doing their job," said goalie Mike Smith, who will make his ninth consecutive start Monday. "We've talked about it the last couple of days and we have to put our minds where our mouths are."
Smith, chosen as the NHL's First Star in February, has allowed seven goals on 55 shots in his first two games this month.
Phoenix was swept by Pittsburgh in home-and-home games last season and has dropped five of its last seven to the Penguins. But top-line forward Ray Whitney frequently troubled the Penguins while with Carolina and Florida, among other teams; he has 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points in 43 career games against them.
The Coyotes' likely lineup:
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
David Rundblad - Chris Summers
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
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