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Thrashers try to cool off red-hot Coyotes

by David Kalan
THRASHERS (25-23-10) at COYOTES (30-19-9)


Last 10 -- Atlanta 2-5-3; Phoenix 6-4-0.

Season series -- This is the only meeting of the season for the Thrashers and Coyotes. Phoenix took the last meeting 3-2 in a shootout at Philips Arena on March 14, 2010.

Big story -- With the news that defenseman Dustin Byfuglien has re-upped in Atlanta by agreeing to a multiyear contract, the Thrashers can turn their attention to climbing back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Coyotes welcome the Thrashers for a rare visit after taking over first place in the Pacific Division with a 3-2 home win against Washington on Monday.

Team Scope:

Thrashers -- For a franchise with a history of seeing great young talent walk out the door, Tuesday's announced extension with Byfuglien could serve as a major moment for the Thrashers. The deal, reportedly a five-year pact worth $26 million, is expected by the front office to legitimize the team as a future free-agent destination. What could be more helpful than Byfuglien signing on the dotted line, however would be the franchise's second-ever playoff berth.

Unfortunately for Blueland, the Thrashers haven't done themselves any favors with their recent play. Atlanta has won just two of its last 10 games, dropping the Thrashers to 10th in the East. To turn their fortunes around, Atlanta could use some better play between the pipes. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has won just one of his last six starts, compiling a 3.53 goals-against average in the process.

Coyotes -- If Phoenix coach Dave Tippett wants to get the best out of his team all season, he might consider leaving all calendars in Arena on the month of February. For the second year in a row, the 'Yotes are riding a strong second half up the Western Conference standings. While last year's late-season run earned Phoenix its first postseason berth in eight years, a five-game winning streak this season has Phoenix flirting with the franchise's first-ever NHL division title.

While a Pacific Division title would guarantee the Coyotes a top-three seed, any brief slump could leave Phoenix on the outside looking in just as easily. The 3-2 win against the Capitals was a good morale boost.

Who's hot -- With Atlanta struggling, the most productive player for the Thrashers of late has been Evander Kane, who has 5 points in his last five games. ... Despite some strong offensive performances for Phoenix, Ilya Bryzgalov has been the hottest Coyote of all, winning his last five starts while posting a 1.18 GAA and a .955 save percentage.

Injury report -- Fredrik Modin is listed by Atlanta as questionable with an upper-body industry. … Phoenix may be without center Kyle Turris, who is listed as questionable for undisclosed reasons.

Stat pack -- The Thrashers still have time to pull themselves together and earn a playoff berth, but the numbers indicate they may have been lucky to get this far. Of the top 10 teams in the East, Atlanta has by far the worst goal differential, having been outscored by 21 goals this season.

Puck drop -- As time begins to run out on the 2010-11 season, both Atlanta and Phoenix could sorely use the two points. The Thrashers may very well be done for the year if they can't turn it around soon, and while the Coyotes appear to have some measure of stability in the West, Thursday will be their last home game before hitting the road for five in a row. The road will be a far more difficult place to pick up the points they'll need.

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