Another night, another Pacific division foe. The Phoenix Coyotes scurry into town tonight for a showdown against the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. This is the second night of a back-to-back on the road for the Yotes, losing to the Winnipeg Jets in a shoot out last night. The Avs will be facing a tired team, but you can't underestimate the will in this one. Phoenix sits one point behind Dallas for a wild card spot, with Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Nashville all nipping at their heels.
As you know, the Avs' defense showed its deficiencies on Wednesday, punctuating the loss that is Erik Johnson as he served the first of his two-game suspension. With new papa Max Talbot coming back into the line up, one of the 7 blueliners from the Kings game will most likely be a healthy scratch. Any one of Ryan Wilson, Cory Sarich and Nate Guenin would be reasonable after their performances earlier this week. Given his entire body of work this season, though, one would suspect that person will be Wilson. Personal bias aside, that could be quite a mistake as he was starting to show some of the old swagger last game.
The forwards continue to do what they do offensively. Guys are approaching milestones left and right, as well. Special teams were clicking last game, and with solid 5v5 defense, the team could walk away with this game. Semyon Varlamov makes his return after a disappointing loss in Sochi. Knowing him, he'll be hell-bent on getting that decisive win.
As for Phoenix, they have some Olympic returnees as well. Mike Smith, who didn't tend goal in Russia, played last night, so it shouldn't be a surprise if Thomas Greiss defends the net for the away team. The 28-year-old has started 14 games this season, going 7-4-1 at the final buzzers. He's faced the Avs 4 times in his career, winning all of them and sporting a 1.25 GAA and .963 save percentage. Makes ya kinda wish Smith was going to be in net.
As for the Coyotes' offense, there is only one guy on the team that has bested the 20-goal mark, and that's Antoine Vermette. The next closest is Shane Doan with 15. As you know, the Avs have two with two more on the cusp. While the Avs have five guys with over 40 points on the season, Phoenix has one. Scoring doesn't come easy to the desert dogs. If the Avs can find a way to solve Greiss, they should be able to take it tonight. He's the X Factor, though. The game could just as easily slip through Colorado's fingers.
Just as it was the other night, Colorado sits 5 points behind both St. Louis and Chicago (tied at 84 points) in the standings. The good news is that the Blues now only have one game in hand, and the Avs still have their two games over the Hawks. What once was considered a foregone conclusion—the top spot in the Central being a two-horse race—isn't so foregone anymore. The Avs absolutely can catch them and take the division. In order for that to happen, though, they can't let four consecutive goals against negate a comfortable two-goal lead again.
Given how screwy the lines were Wednesday, I'm not even going to hazard a guess at that one. We'll find out for sure after morning skate today.
Game starts at 7 pm MT and can be seen on FS-A PLUS in
Canada Arizona and ALT in Denver. For a view from the other side, check out Five For Howling. Be nice!!!!