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Coyotes on solid run as they prepare to face Leafs

by Dave Lozo
COYOTES (8-4-3) at MAPLE LEAFS (10-6-1)


Last 10:
Phoenix 6-2-2; Toronto 5-5-0

Season Series:
This is the first and only meeting. In last year's only meeting in Phoenix, the Coyotes smoked the Leafs 5-1.

Big Story:
After a fast start, the Leafs are sliding back to the pack. They've lost three of four and have been outscored 19-6 during that span. The Leafs have 21 points and remain in the upper half of the Eastern Conference, but they'll need to right the ship to avoid a continued fall.

The Coyotes are headed in the opposite direction with five wins in their past seven games. Mike Smith has been a rock for coach Dave Tippett, going 7-2-3 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

Team Scope:

There's nothing like a little five-game road trip through the Eastern time zone to find out where your team stands. The Coyotes started the trip in the Western time zone Saturday with an impressive 3-0 win against the San Jose Sharks.

Smith made 31 saves, and continues to impress his coach.

"I know Smith from Dallas," said Tippett, who coached the Stars while Smith was there. "He has always been a good goaltender. I think it is a situation where the goaltender has to earn the trust of the players in front of him and they have to have the trust of their goaltender. Mike has come in and really stabilized that position. Our players have really fed off of how he has played."

Maple Leafs:
Playing in front of a raucous crowd at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, the Leafs jumped to an early 1-0 lead by playing inspired hockey. The lead would dissipate in the second period, as the Ottawa Senators rallied for a 5-2 victory that ended with a pair of empty-net goals for the visiting team.

This recent slide is the first bump in the road for the Leafs, who are still learning what it takes to win consistently.

"I think we're on our way there, but we're still learning and we're going to have to learn how to win these one-goal games that seem to be slipping away from us," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "Not being negative, but when we're up by a goal we tend to sit back. We're going to have to learn to keep pushing and to win these kinds of games that we have leads in."

Who's Hot: For the Coyotes, Martin Hanzal has 3 goals and 5 assists in his past 7 games. … With his League-leading 24 points, Phil Kessel has accounted for 17.8 percent of the Maple Leafs' 135 points this season. To put that in perspective, Daniel Sedin of the Canucks has 22 points, which accounts for only 14.3 percent of his team's scoring.

Injury Report: Defenseman Michal Rozsival took a puck in the face in the opener and hasn't played since. … The Leafs' Tim Connolly is dealing with an upper-body injury. Goaltender James Reimer (head/neck) is out, leaving the duties to either Jonas Gustavsson or Ben Scrivens.

Stat Pack:
The Leafs haven't beaten the Coyotes since Oct. 23, 2003. The Coyotes have outscored the Leafs 26-11 while going 5-0 since that game. Mikael Tellqvist was the last Leafs goalie to beat the Coyotes, who used Sean Burke -- now the Coyotes' goalie coach -- in that 2003-04 contest.

Puck Drop:
"This is my fourth year with Phoenix and there are not too many times that we have won, so it is nice to get a win here. Most importantly, it shows that if we make that kind of effort here, we can win more often." -- Radim Vrbata, after the Coyotes won in San Jose for the first time since April 2009, a span of seven games

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