By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will conclude the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule tonight when they play the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion. The puck drops at 8:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
Remarkably, it will be the first meeting of the season between the Pacific Division rivals, with five more matchups to go.
The Coyotes (15-10-7) will enter the game four points behind the second-place Sharks (18-11-5), who trail first-place Dallas by four points.
Tonight’s game will be Phoenix’s fifth in a row away from home ice. So far, Phoenix is 1-2-1 during the road stretch, which will conclude on Dec. 26 at Dallas. After that game comes home games against two more division rivals – Anaheim and Los Angeles.
"(When) you look at our division, it's very tight, and when you can take points away from a division team, that's a huge step," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "All four of these games are very important. It starts at San Jose. That one gets kind of put on a pedestal because it's the last one before Christmas, so we have to go in there and play well."
will make his fourth consecutive start in goal in place of Ilya Bryzgalov
who continues to nurse an upper-body injury he sustained vs. New Jersey on Dec. 15.
LaBarbera has faced San Jose 11 times in his NHL career and has posted a 3-6-1 record vs. the Sharks and a 2.25 goals-against average. While playing for the LA Kings, LaBarbera made 31 saves on April 17, 2006 to shut out the Sharks at HP Pavilion.
|Photo by Getty Images.
Winger Mikkel Boedker
likely will be in the lineup tonight after being recalled from the American Hockey League on Wednesday to replace injured forward Taylor Pyatt
Boedker, the eighth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, was leading the team’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio with 18 assists and was third with eight goals when he was recalled (see PODCASTS
San Jose will enter the game with a three-game winning streak.
Forwards Dany Heatley and Ryan Clowe are co-leading the Sharks with 31 points each, and goalie Antero Niittymaki has won five of his last six starts. Niittymaki has been in goal for all three games during San Jose's streak, posting a 1.66 goals-against average.
Rookie center Logan Couture has scored 18 goals and the Sharks are 12-1-2 in the games in which he has scored a goal.
"I think we're turning the corner right now,” Couture told the San Jose Mercury News. “We've got one more game to go before this Christmas break coming up. We've got to focus on Phoenix. I want to go into, and I'm sure everyone else wants to go into, this Christmas break with four wins."