By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to return to the Western Conference playoff field tonight when they play the Colorado Avalanche at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (36-26-12) will enter the game in ninth place in the conference standings, but tied with eighth-place Los Angeles with 84 points and just one point behind seventh-place Colorado.
The Coyotes will play this game without captain Shane Doan
, whom the NHL on Wednesday suspended for three games for elbowing Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn on Tuesday night.
“Our guys have proven all year long we can handle adversity,” Doan told phoenixcoyotes.com after Thursday’s morning skate. “This isn't very much. They'll do fine."
Defenseman Keith Yandle
and center Martin Hanzal
are Phoenix’s alternate captains. Ray Whitney
, who has notched two goals and six assists during a five-game point streak, will serve as a third alternate captain during Doan’s suspension.
"We'll deal with it as a group," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said of Doan’s absence. "It doesn't change our mind-set…We still have to win."
, who turned 30 years old today, will start in goal for the Coyotes. Smith is 3-0-1 with a 0.98 goals-against average in four career starts vs. Colorado.
Tippett said Radim Vrbata
, who leads the Coyotes with 30 goals, might return to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game at Dallas because of illness. Meanwhile, forwards Taylor Pyatt
and Marc-Antoine Pouliot
and defenseman Adrian Aucoin
won’t play tonight because of injuries, Tippett said.
Colorado (40-30-5), which will enter the game seventh in the Western Conference, has won seven of its past nine games.
Five of the Avalanche’s last six games have gone past regulation, and Colorado is 4-0-1 in those games.
|Photo by Getty Images.
Forward Gabriel Landeskog recently became only the second rookie in NHL history to surpass 20 goals and 200 hits in a season, joining defenseman Dion Phaneuf (2005-06).
Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal for the Avalanche, who own the fifth-best road record in the Western Conference (18-15-5). Varlamov has won five games in a row.
Colorado is tied for 10th in power-play percentage (18.6 percent), but no other NHL team has gone on fewer power plays (204) than the Avalanche.
"Hopefully, when we go down the stretch, we'll get some more power plays," Avalanche center Paul Stastny told reporters. "As long as we are winning and not getting power plays, that is fine by us."