GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes enjoyed a much-needed, four-day break to heal bumps and bruises and recharge batteries tested by a difficult early schedule.
But the rest of the potent Western Conference, boasting teams that have compiled the top eight point totals in the NHL, has been working while Phoenix sat on the sidelines. To keep pace, the Coyotes need to hit the ground running when they face off against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
The Coyotes (31 points) and Avalanche (30) are part of the eight-team logjam that is separated by three points in the standings. Colorado lost three straight before rebounding with a 5-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
The Coyotes' battered defense corps benefitted most from the break. Derek Morris, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 5 with a lower-body injury, returned to practice and coach Dave Tippett said he was likely to play Thursday. David Schlemko (lower body) practiced as well and will be a game-time decision. David Runblad would step in if Schlemko can't go.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body) remains on the sidelines. He skated briefly at practice Wednesday but did not take part in the morning skate Thursday.
Up front, wing Lauri Korpikoski has not recovered from a shot to the head he took Saturday during a 6-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Korpikoski was just heating up after a slow start; he had collected three goals and five points in his past four games and matched a career high with three points (one goal, two assists) against the Lightning.
Colorado remains without leading scorer Matt Duchene, who is out with an oblique strain and didn't make the trip to Phoenix. Cory Sarich returns to the Avalanche defense in place of healthy scratch Nick Holden.
Here is how the Avalanche and Coyotes lineups look for Thursday:
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Ryan O'Reilly
Jamie McGinn – Paul Stastny – PA Parenteau
Cody McLeod – John Mitchell -- Maxime Talbot
Marc-Andre Cliche -- Brad Malone – Patrick Bordeleau
Erik Johnson – Jan Hejda
Tyson Barrie – Cory Sarich
Andre Benoit – Nate Guenin
Scratched: Matt Hunwick, Nick Holden
Injured: Matt Duchene (oblique), Alex Tanguay (knee), Ryan Wilson (back)
Shane Doan - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss
Tim Kennedy - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Rob Klinkhammer - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Kyle Chipchura - Jeff Halpern - Jordan Szwarz
Michael Stone - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Keith Yandle – Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Rostislav Klesla
Scratched: Paul Bissonnette, David Rundblad
Injured: Lauri Korpikoski (upper body), Zbynek Michalek (lower body)