By Dave Vest
DENVER – The Coyotes will try to extend their latest winning streak to three games tonight when they play the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
Tonight’s game is a matchup between two of the bigger surprises in the NHL this season. With 79 and 74 points already banked this season, respectively, the Coyotes and Avalanche appear destined to return to the playoffs.
Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal for the Coyotes. Bryzgalov has won six of his last seven starts and has posted a 2.08 goals-against average during that span. Bryzgalov is seeking his 33rd victory of the season, which is the franchise record for wins in a season by a goalie.
Phoenix (37-19-5), which has won five of its past six road games, is looking to avenge a poor showing here on Nov. 4 when it lost 4-1.
"We didn't come in here and play that great of a game," Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler said. "...We spent a lot of time in the (penalty) box. Obviously, we're a little different team now and we've got a little more confidence."
Colorado (34-19-6) has earned 74 points this season under new Head Coach Joe Sacco. That’s five points more than the Avs earned last season when they finished last in the Western Conference standings.
The Avalanche have won four straight home games and eight of their past 10, including a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta on Wednesday.
"We're feeling great right now," left wing Chris Durno told reporters after the game. "That was a big win, being down 3-1 late in the third. We've got a pretty persistent group in here and it showed again tonight."
Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata has scored three goals in the past four games and leads the team with 20. He also ranks 13th in the league with 206 shots on goal.
Avalanche defenseman Kyle Cumiskey has notched four points in the past five games, including the game-winning goal in overtime vs. Atlanta on Wednesday.
Coyotes forward Matthew Lombardi has scored three goals in two games since being moved from center to winger on a line with Robert Lang and Shane Doan. "He's shooting the puck well, he's making real good shots," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "So we'll see how long it goes. Right now, he's got a hot stick."
The Coyotes didn't face Avs goalie Craig Anderson on Nov. 4, but they will tonight as he makes his 15th consecutive start. He has posted a 30-15-5 record and a 2.43 goals-against average this season.
Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata broke into the NHL with the Avalanche in 2001-02. He notched 60 points in 118 games for Colorado before being traded to Carolina for left wing Bates Battaglia.
"Everybody's banged up a little bit. If we can get through these next couple of games and get a coiuple wins, it will make our (Olympic) break that much better."