By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to strengthen their position in the Western Conference playoff race tonight when they play the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (37-26-12) will enter the game in eighth place in the conference standings, one point ahead of ninth-place Colorado and two points ahead of the 10th-place Sharks.
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The Coyotes have defeated the Sharks three times in a row - by a combined score of 11-3 - since losing at San Jose in the season opener on Oct. 8.
"We know them well," Coyotes Head Coach Tippett said. "Their top players are really top players. They play a real strong forechecking game. We're going to have to be on top of our game... We know it's going to be a tight game, one of those games where every play counts, and we have to find a way to win."
Goalie Mike Smith
, who on Thursday won his 100th NHL game, started the first four games vs. the Sharks this season and has shut them out twice. Smith, who will start tonight, has posted a 1.00 goals-against average in the last three games between these rivals.
Winger Ray Whitney
will enter the game riding a six-game point streak (two goals, seven assists) and with a team-high 70 points. Whitney needs just four more points to reach 1,000 for his NHL career.
Leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata
will be looking to end a 12-game drought. Vrbata has notched 30 goals this season but none since Feb. 21.
|Photo by Getty Images.
San Jose (37-27-10) will enter the game on the outside looking up at the Western Conference playoff field with just two weeks left in the season.
The Sharks, who like the Coyotes are 4-5-3 in March, on Thursday snapped a two-game losing streak with a much-needed 2-1 home victory over the Boston Bruins.
San Jose owns the fourth-best power-play unit in the NHL at 20.9 percent, but its penalty-killing unit is struggling at 78.3 percent. Only two other NHL teams are less successful killing power plays.
Center Joe Thornton ranks tied for the third in the NHL with 53 assists and 15th with 69 points.
Defenseman Dan Boyle ranks first on the team in ice time (25:44) and second with 233 shots on goal. He also ranks second in the NHL in points (348) amongst defensemen since the lockout in 2005-06. Only Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom has more points during that time.