By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to leap into first place in the Pacific Division standings tonight when they play the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. The puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (36-26-11) will enter the game with 83 points, the same amount as the first-place Stars. Dallas, however, has one game in hand and, thus, is the division leader.
will start in goal against the Stars, the team that selected him with the 161st overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Smith, a member of the Stars from 2006-08, is 3-0-2 with a 0.96 goals-against average and a shutout against his former club this season.
The Coyotes are hoping leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata
, who suffered an injury during Sunday’s win at Edmonton, will be able to play tonight. He will be a game-time decision. Forward Taylor Pyatt
, who also was injured on Sunday, will not play tonight.
On the plus side, Coyotes center Kyle Chipchura
, who has missed the past 14 games because of an upper-body injury, is expected to return to the lineup tonight.
Phoenix is 3-0-2 vs. Dallas this season and has won the past three games by a combined score of 9-2.
"Every game matters so much for us right now," said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle
, who has a goal and three assists in the past three games vs. Dallas.
The Stars (39-28-5) will enter the game with a two-game losing streak after a 10-0-1 run lifted them into first place.
Dallas last played on Friday and lost 4-1 to Chicago on home ice.
"We've got to refocus and just forget about it, learn from our mistakes and move on," Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas told the team's official website. "It's like the playoffs. We've been in playoff mode for the last two months and in the playoffs, you can't be moping after a game. We just got to move forward.”
|Photo by Getty Images.
The Stars have allowed just one power-play goal over their past 10 games. In total, Dallas has killed 30 of their opponents' last 31 power plays (96.8 percent). The Stars are currently ranked 10th in the NHL on the penalty kill, up from 18th at the All-Star break.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal. Lehtonen has posted a 4-2-4 record with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in 11 career games against the Coyotes.
Right wing Radek Dvorak and defenseman Sheldon Souray, who have been out because of injuries three and four games, respectively, are expected to be back in the lineup tonight.