By Dave Vest
GLENDALE – The Coyotes will attempt to extend their latest winning streak to eight games tonight with a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
The game, which is sold out, will be the third between these teams this season. Phoenix won the first two. The Blackhawks sit atop the Western Conference standings with 96 points, but the Coyotes are close behind with 93.
The Coyotes (44-22-5) will be on home ice for the first time since winning every game on a four-game trip through the Southeast Division. The Blackhawks snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory at the Los Angels Kings on Thursday.
“They're an ornery team,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "... They had some people out of their lineup and they won a big game in LA and played very well in that game... They compete very hard. We've talked about our group coming back from a road trip, and sometimes those games can be a little treacherous, and we've talked about trying to overcome that and just put the work boots on because it's going to be a hard-working physical game."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to listen to all of Tippett's pre-game remarks.
Ilya Bryzgalov, who has won his past six starts, will be in goal for the Coyotes. Antti Niemi will start for Chicago (45-19-6), which is hoping to have defenseman Brent Seabrook back in the lineup after missing Thursday’s game because of a concussion.
A big key to tonight’s game will be special teams. The Blackhawks rank ninth in the NHL in power-play efficiency at 18.9 percent. The Coyotes rank seventh in penalty killing at 83.9 percent.
"You've got to make sure you stay out of the penalty box because their power play is as good as anybody's," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "I think the big thing is not to give them any free chances. They're going to create some chances, just can't give them any free ones."
Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata scored the game-tying goal and shootout-deciding goal vs. Florida on Thursday night, and leads the team with 22 goals.
Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has notched four goals and 12 assists in the past 12 games.
Coyotes right wing Lee Stempniak has a seven-game point streak since joining Phoenix via a trade with Toronto on March 3. Stempniak is just the second player in franchise history to record a point in his first seven games with the Coyotes/Jets organization, joining Bryan Erickson, who registered points in the final six games of the 1990-91 season and the first three games of the 1991-92 campaign.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan has notched three assists in the past four games despite playing with an upper-body injury he suffered just before the break for the Olympics.
On Thursday vs. Los Angeles, Duncan Keith became the first Blackhawks defenseman to reach the 50-assist plateau since Chris Chelios in 1995-96.
"I've played OK. Obviously, (being traded) was a big change but I think I'm getting better each game. I'm starting to feel like myself."