By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will begin a critical four-game road trip tonight when they play the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (34-25-11) will enter the game in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, four points behind Pacific Division leading Dallas. After tonight’s game, the Coyotes will play at Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas before returning home. Althought Phoenix has a 9-2-3 record vs. those four teams this season, Head Coach Dave Tippett knows the trek will be difficult.
"It's a great challenge for our team right now," Tippett said. "Our players all know the magnitude of the games and what's at stake for us, and we've got to go on the road and play very well."
will start in goal tonight for the Coyotes, who have scored just two regulation goals in three games vs. Vancouver this season. Smith has notched a 1-1-0 record and a 2.89 goals-against average against the Canucks in 2011-12.
Injured forwards Martin Hanzal
and Kyle Chipchura
accompanied the team on this trip and are close to returning to the lineup. So is defenseman Derek Morris
, who recently rejoined the team after taking a leave of absence because of a family illness.
Defenseman David Schlemko
, who missed the past 28 games after suffering a lower-body injury on Jan. 7, is expected to return to the lineup tonight.
“It’s an exciting time of year,” Schelmko said. “…I’m just excited to be back and trying to contribute to making the playoffs and going from there.”
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to read more about Schlemko's return to the lineup.
“We've got some good options, and right now, when you're in a playoff stretch drive, you need as many bodies as you can, and that depth will be a real asset for our group," Tippett said.
|Photo by Getty Images
Vancouver (42-19-8) leads the Northwest Division by 14 points but is losing ground to St. Louis in the race for first place in the Western Conference standings. The Canucks have lost three of their first five games of a seven-game homestand, and are just 2-3-2 in their past seven games.
"Most concerning for me right now is when our best players aren't our best players on the ice," Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the team lost to lowly Montreal, 4-1, on Saturday night.
Canucks All-Star Henrik Sedin has failed to notch a point in the past eight games. His twin brother Daniel, also an All-Star, has a five-game no-point streak.
Roberto Luongo is expected to start in goal. Luongo has posted a 5-2-1 record and a 1.47 goals-against average in his last eight games vs. Phoenix.