By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to begin a new winning streak tonight when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (33-22-9) will enter the game in first place in the Pacific Division standings, two points ahead of second-place San Jose, which hosts St. Louis tonight.
The Coyotes posted an 11-0-1 record in February but began March with a 4-2 home loss to Calgary on Thursday night.
Head Coach Dave Tippett said his team can’t afford to let that loss trigger a funk.
“We've got a team coming in Columbus that beat Colorado (on Thursday) and that is playing free and easy, and if you're not willing to compete against them, you're going to be on the back side of it," Tippett said.
Tonight’s game vs. Columbus is the second of four between the teams this season. Columbus won the first game, 4-3, at Nationwide Arena on Jan. 13.
Phoenix will enter the game ranked last in the NHL in power-play efficiency at 13.3 percent.
"It's an area that's been a concern all year," Tippett said. "We've tried different people, different looks, and we'll continue to pound away until we can find some solutions with it."
, whom the NHL named its No. 1 Star for February, is expected to be back in goal. Click here
to watch an exclusive interview
with Smtih recorded after Friday's practice.
Center Antoine Vermette
, whom Phoenix acquired from the Blue Jackets on Feb. 22 in exchange for goaltender Curtis McElhinney and two draft picks, will play his first game against his former teammates, still looking for his first point with the Coyotes (see PODCASTS
Center Gilbert Brule
, who has missed the past four games because of an upper-body injury, will be a game-time decision for this matchup with the Blue Jackets, the club that selected Brule with the sixth overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Brule notched three goals and four assists in 17 games before suffering the injury in the game played Feb. 21. Vs. Los Angeles.
Columbus (19-38-7), which will enter the game with the fewest points (45) of any team in the NHL, is 3-1-1 in its last five road games after going 0-6-1 their previous seven road games.
"Seeing other teams smiling, seeing other teams in pretty good playoff position, makes me mad," forward Derek MacKenzie told the Columbus Dispatch. "It makes you feel like what you've done here isn't good enough. We know that April 7 is going to be our last day and that's a crappy feeling. But if we can channel that into something positive, that is going to be our biggest asset."
The Blue Jackets last played on Thursday when they blanked the Colorado Avalanche, 2-0, at the Pepsi Center. Goalie Stave Mason made 33 saves in that game for his first shutout of the season. Mason, who is expected to start again tonight, has posted a 1.25 goals-against average and .965 save percentage in his last four wins.
Defenseman Jack Johnson has yet to notch a point and is minus-4 in his first three games since being traded to the Blue Jackets from Los Angeles for center Jeff Carter on Feb. 23.