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Hot on home ice, Avalanche welcome in Coyotes

by David Kalan
COYOTES (37-19-5) at AVALANCHE (34-19-6)

Last 10 -- Phoenix 8-2-0; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series -- The Avalanche have taken the only meeting this year, knocking off the Coyotes, 4-1, at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 4.

Big story -- Phoenix and Colorado had the two lowest point totals in the West a season ago, but are now among the League's biggest surprises as each seems all but assured of a postseason berth. Friday night provide a valuable opportunity to make a move in the West playoff race.

Team Scope:

Coyotes -- After a disappointing fall from the West's top eight last year and an offseason filled with turmoil, the Coyotes have risen near the top of the NHL standings. Phoenix has already equaled its total from a season ago, as the 'Yotes have racked up 79 points this season, good for fourth in the League. Phoenix has been particularly strong of late, winning eight of its last nine and five of six away from Arena.

While the 'Yotes have only lost one game this month, however, the offense has sputtered. Phoenix has mostly relied on the impressive play of Ilya Bryzgalov, who has a career-high 32 wins this season to go with his 2.20 goals-against average. Aside from a six-goal outburst against cellar-dwelling Edmonton on Monday, Phoenix has averaged one goal per game in February. With the notable exceptions of Radim Vrbata and Matt Lombardi, who have combined 10 points in the last four games, much of the offense has struggled to match the play of its netminder.
Avalanche --
While the Coyotes have matched their 2008-09 points total already, the Avs have already passed their output from a season ago and then some. Colorado has 74 points after notching only 69 last season, and is now prepping for the playoffs rather than preparing to use a lottery pick. The Avs are still in a dogfight with the Canucks for first place in the Northwest, and with four wins in its last five games, Colorado appears to be doing as good a job as it can to keep pace with Vancouver.

Offseason acquisition Craig Anderson has been a rock between the pipes for the surging Avalanche, nabbing his 30th win of the season on Wednesday, but the offense has been rolling in the Rockies as well. Chris Stewart and T.J. Galiardi have combined for 12 points in the last five games, while Kyle Cumiskey, whose goal nine seconds into overtime gave Colorado a victory over Atlanta this week, has four points in his last five. With the Avs succeeding on both ends of the ice, the question for Joe Sacco's team appears to no longer appears to be when will the other shoe drop, but rather, how far can that shoe walk come spring.

Who's hot -- While the 'Yotes have been streaking, Bryzgalov's stellar play is the big reason why. Bryzgalov has won six of his last seven starts with a 2.08 GAA. … For Colorado, Brandon Yip has continued to impress with five goals in his last five games.

Injury report --
Colorado has been without Ruslan Salei, out with an ailing back, and recently lost David Koci, who was place on IR this week with a broken hand. The Avs will still be missing Milan Hejduk, who, despite skating recently, is not expected to be back until March after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. … Phoenix will be without Scottie Upshall, who had surgery on his right knee Tuesday.

Stat pack -- Colorado has been exceptional at home lately, winning eight of its last 10, with Anderson racking up a 1.21 GAA over that span.

Puck drop -- With two valuable points in the West playoff race on the line, and two goaltenders in the midst of very strong seasons, this could be a tense duel for Bryzgalov and Anderson. If Colorado is to come away with two points, however, it may need more than 60 minutes. The Avs have only won three of their last nine matchups with the 'Yotes; just one of those victories came in regulation.
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