By Dave Vest CHICAGO – The Coyotes will put their season-high five-game winning streak on the line tonight at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks. The puck drops at 6:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
Backup Jason LaBarbera will start in goal for Phoenix (34-18-5), which won the only other game between these teams this season, 3-1, on Nov. 5 in Glendale. LaBarbera is 4-4-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average.
LaBarbera is expecting a challenge tonight.
“There is no denying the fact that they have a lot of talent,” LaBarbera said. “Up front they’re very well balanced. All four lines can score goals and all four lines can compete hard.”
Coyotes center Robert Lang, who ranks seventh on the team in scoring with 26 points, may not play because of a minor injury. If he can’t go, center Joel Perrault, recalled Thursday from the American Hockey League, will take his place (see PODCASTS below).
The Coyotes haven’t won six games in a row since the middle of the 2006-07 season when they won seven consecutive matches.
Chicago (37-15-4) will enter the game with a two-game losing streak, including a lackluster 3-2 home loss to St. Louis on Wednesday. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks are 21-6-1 on home ice and have outscored opponents 93-62.
“They’re a young, quick, very-skilled team,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “…They’re a team that when they’re at the top of their game you’d better be at the top of yours to have a chance to win.”
Cristobal Huet is expected to start in goal for the Blackhawks.
Defenseman Duncan Keith is having an outstanding season for the Blackhawks. His 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) rank second in the NHL among defensemen behind Washington’s Mike Green.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle has notched six points in his last seven games. He now leads all Phoenix defensemen with 29 points.
Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has notched nine points in the past nine games.
Here’s an interesting stat: The Coyotes are 10-3-1 vs. teams from the Central Division. Conversely, the Blackhawks are 5-6-1 vs. teams from the Pacific Division.
The Blackhawks have beaten the Coyotes four consecutive times at the United Center. Phoenix’s last win here came on Jan. 7, 2007 as part of the team’s aforementioned seven-game winning streak that season.
The Coyotes have taken just four penalties in the first two games of this four-game trip. They must stay disciplined against Chicago, which ranks sixth in the league on the power play (20.5 percent). The Blackhawks also rank fourth in penalty killing (85.2 percent) and first in shorthanded goals with nine. Forward Marian Hossa leads the way with four.
"I'm pretty excited to get the call to play in a game and I'll be ready."