By Dave Vest GLENDALE -- The Coyotes will return to home ice tonight when they play the red-hot Minnesota Wild at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
The game will be the first of four between the teams this season and the first of two in Glendale where the Coyotes have beaten the Wild four of the past five times they've played.
The Coyotes (15-10-3) will enter the game in first place in the Pacific Division standings two points ahead of Dallas and San Jose.
Mike Smith, who struggled in a 5-2 loss at Detroit on Thursday night, will be back in goal for the Coyotes as they play the second of just six December home games.
Phoenix is being led offensively by forward Radim Vrbata, who has scored 14 goals in the first 28 games. Last season, Vrbata scored 19 goals in 78 games.
Winger Ray Whitney and defenseman Keith Yandle are tied for the team lead with 15 assists apiece. Center Kyle Turris will be looking to notch his first point since re-signing with the team on Nov. 22. Turris played a season-high 17:31 vs. the Red Wings on Thursday, but he did not register a shot on goal. He has taken six shots on goal this season, but only two in the past four games.
Photo by Getty Images.
The Wild (19-7-3) have surprised the hockey world under rookie Head Coach Mike Yeo and are leading the NHL with 41 points.
On Thursday, Minnesota won its franchise record sixth road game in a row at Los Angeles – and they did it in rookie goalie Matt Hackett's first career start. Hackett made 42 saves in place of Niklas Backstrom, who is nursing an injury.
The Wild, who have won six games in a row overall, have not been dazzling opponents, they’ve simply been beating them. As far as players to watch – take your pick. The Wild play a solid team game and none of their players are ranked in the NHL’s top 30 in terms of point production.
Captain Mikko Koivu is leading the way offensively with 24 points, and five players are tied for the team lead with eight goals.
Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata has notched a point in each of the past four games (two goals, two assists), and is tied for the team lead with 25 points.
Wild left wing Dany Heatley has notched a point in each of the past five games (two goals, three assists), and ranks second on the team with 19 points.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle needs one point to tie Ed Jovanovski (164) for seventh place on the all-time franchise points list for defensemen.
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has scored five goals this season. Only five other NHL defensemen have scored more than five times.
Tonight's game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona and on XTRA Sports 910 (AM). A link to the radio broadcast will be provided at phoenixcoyotes.com at 6 p.m. For in-game updates via Twitter, follow @coyotesgameday.