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Teams playing well collide as Canucks visit Coyotes

by Matthew Mankiewich
CANUCKS (11-9-1) at COYOTES (11-6-3)


Last 10:
Vancouver 6-4-0; Phoenix 6-3-1

Season series: They start a new set of four after following an interesting pattern the past three seasons. Last season the visiting team won every game, whereas the home team won each game the season before that, and in 2008-09, the teams split at each venue.

Big story: Both teams come in playing well, the Canucks having won five of seven, the Coyotes four of six. Vancouver finds itself in an unusual position after a slow start, six points out of first, but much of that has to do with the Minnesota Wild's incredible play out of the gate. Save for sputtering Anaheim, the Pacific Division is its usual scrunched-up self, the 'Yotes two points behind the division-leading Sharks and the Stars and Kings sandwiched in between.

Team scope:

Canucks: Wednesday's 3-0 win over the Avalanche was the 247th under coach Alain Vigneault, putting him ahead of Marc Crawford for the honor of all-time winningest coach in franchise history. He did it in 98 fewer games than Crawford as well. Of course, Crawford maintains a 1-0 lead in Stanley Cup rings.

What may be more important, however, is what this win means in terms of this season. One year prior, a 4-2 win over the Avs sent the Canucks on an unprecedented 17-1-2 run and the pinnacle of the NHL. While it might be a reach to expect a repeat performance, the signs of a turnaround are there.

Goalie Cory Schneider came up with a perfect performance, stopping 24 shots and stirring the goaltending controversy between him and Roberto Luongo just a little more.

"He made some incredible saves, some highlight-reel saves, but more importantly, he made the saves we expect him to make," Manny Malhotra said of Schneider. "When you have that kind of confidence in your goalie, a lot of good things are going to happen."

Coyotes: Radim Vrbata isn't too particular about who goes in nets, as he's been scoring on everybody. He scored twice in Wednesday's win over Anaheim, has five goals in his last three games and 11 in the first 20 this season. It took till his 49th game last season to score his 11th goal.

"You need some luck to score goals in this league and right now I'm getting a little bit of luck," said Vrbata, who had a goal and an assist against the Canucks last season.

"(Vrbata) is a clever guy," coach Dave Tippett said. "He plays a smart game, finds the openings and creates some opportunities."

Who's hot: Vrbata takes care of things on one end of the ice and Mike Smith handles the other. He's 8-1-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average in his last 10 games. He has only one start against the Canucks, however, a 2-1 loss on Nov. 6, 2006 while a member of the Dallas Stars. Shane Doan has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last five games. ... Canucks points leader Daniel Sedin has 6 points in his last six games, but they're all assists.

Injury report: Luongo backed up Schneider on Wednesday after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Keith Ballard (back) has missed two straight games, while Andrew Ebbett sits out with a fractured foot. Mason Raymond (broken vertebrae) continues to practice without a set timetable, as does Michal Rozsival on the Coyotes' side (upper body). Daymond Langkow has missed seven straight games due to a death in the family, but is expected back Friday.

Kyle Turris will not be available just yet for Phoenix after signing a two-year, $2.8 million deal on Tuesday, as he will go to AHL Portland for a conditioning assignment.

Stat pack: The Coyotes are 5-1-1 in games where Vrbata has scored and 6-5-2 when he hasn't. His power-play goal Wednesday snapped a 1-for-24 drought.

Puck drop: "You're talking about my Spidey senses? I always believe in this group. It's a very responsible, professional, mature group. I do think we're on the right track." -- Vigneault in the Vancouver Sun on whether he feels the team is on the cusp of a turnaround similar to last season

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