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Vrbata isn't streaky, just finally healthy

by Jerry Brown /
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata doesn't consider himself a "streaky" player. However, his numbers beg to differ.

What there's no argument about, however, is when Vrbata starts lighting up the score sheet, the Coyotes usually ride the wave to success.

The Coyotes take a five-game winning streak into Thursday's game with the Atlanta Thrashers at Arena. During that streak, Vrbata has 4 goals and 6 points, including a four-game point-scoring streak that he carries into the game. But he doesn't think he's on a hot streak.

"I feel a lot better physically right now. All of late December and a lot of January I was affected by [a lower-body] injury," Vrbata said. "Now I feel like I have better jump and I can trust my body a little more. I can jump into the open holes and create something more.

"Maybe when you score, you shoot the puck a little more. But I shoot anyway."

He sure does. Vrbata's team-high 177 shots are 32 more than his nearest teammate, Shane Doan, but there have been several droughts where those shots didn't yield much. He's had scoring droughts of 4, 5 and 7 games during the season.  But when it's clicking -- look out.

Vrbata has 33 points this season, and nearly two-thirds of them (20) have come during four microburst scoring streaks of 4 games or less.

All of his points have made a huge difference during their current streak. He had 2 goals, including the game-winner, Feb. 7 against Colorado; an overtime goal at Dallas on Feb. 9; a goal in regulation and the only goal of the shootout against Chicago on Feb. 12, and assists on the first two goals of a 3-2 defeat of Washington on Valentine's Day.

"People say I'm streaky, so OK. It feels good to score but I try not to think about what I did the last game before the next one," Vrbata said. "There are a lot of games when I feel good, but I hit the post or the goalie makes a good save and you don't score. And there are games when you don't play so good but the puck winds up on your stick and you get a goal but it doesn't mean you're rolling."

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett has benched some of his scorers during poor stretches of the season, but he's stuck with Vrbata in every game he's been healthy because he remains responsible defensively.

"Guys like Vrbata and [Ray] Whitney are intelligent players who play the game in a smart way," Tippett said. "Verby's not a physical player, but his positioning is smart. He uses his skills to control the puck, and if we have the puck that's a good defending player. You don't have to run someone through the boards to be a good defensive player. There are a lot of ways to do it."

The Coyotes enter the game Thursday leading a Pacific Division that couldn't be tighter. They are one point ahead of Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose and just two points up on Los Angeles. All five teams are among the top nine in the Western Conference, with only the Kings not holding a playoff spot. The Coyotes need a win against the slumping Thrashers (two wins in their last 10 games) before they start a rough five-game road trip against Nashville, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Columbus and Chicago.
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