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PENGUINS (38-14-2) at COYOTES (25-19-10)
Season series: This is the first of two games this season. The Penguins have won the past three contests against the Coyotes. Phoenix last defeated Pittsburgh on Oct. 7, 2009.
Big story: The Penguins could become the second team to reach 80 points this season, while the Coyotes need a win to stay on the heels of the Vancouver Canucks in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Coyotes: The Coyotes will enter the game three points behind eighth-place Vancouver in the conference standings.
Mike Smith will start in goal after watching backup goalie Thomas Greiss play the past two games in his place. Smith, who has been working with goaltending coach Sean Burke during his two-game rest, owns a 2.45 goals-against average in nine career games vs. the Penguins.
Phoenix lost 3-2 to Buffalo on Thursday night on home ice, and afterward captain Shane Doan called his team's effort "embarassing." Clearly they will need a better effort against the Penguins on Saturday when the teams square off for the first time in Glendale since Nov. 6, 2010.
"It’s a great challenge for us," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "You'd better be ready to play (vs. Pittsburgh) or you'll be on the back side of it."
He added, "We expect to win every night and that’s a good expectation to have. But right now we haven’t fully grasped what it takes to win every night and that’s still a work in progress for this group."
On Friday, Tippett was asked what makes Penguins star Sidney Crosby special.
"He drives their team with work ethic," he said.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek played for Pittsburgh for two seasons, in 2010-12 when he totaled seven goals and 25 assists in 135 games before being traded back to the Coyotes.
"I enjoyed my time (in Pittsburgh)" Michalek said. "It was a good experience for me. The organization was first-class. They treated me so well, and my family so well. Everything we needed, they did. (But) I have moved on. It's two years behind me. I'm looking ahead of me, not back. It was a good experience. I thank them for the opportunity."
Penguins: An overtime loss on Nov. 25 left Pittsburgh with a 15-9-1 record and tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 10th-most points in the NHL. Since that night, the Penguins have won 23 of 29 games (23-5-1) and could be in second place in the League standings by the end of Saturday night with a win and a loss by the Chicago Blackhawks to the San Jose Sharks.
Ten of the team's 16 losses have come when the club has scored less than two goals. The Penguins are 38-4-2 when they score at least two goals and 36-2-2 when they collect at least three goals. Backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff has been a beneficiary of that goal support. He began the season with two losses in October, but he's 9-0-1 since and the Penguins have scored 45 goals in his 12 starts. Zatkoff stopped 30 of 31 shots Thursday night to beat his former team, the Los Angeles Kings 4-1.
"I think the guys were fighting hard for 'Zats' there throughout the game," Head Coach Dan Bylsma said, "and at the end (they) just trying to get him the win."
Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for Pittsburgh against the Coyotes.
Who's hot: After going 11 games without a goal, Coyotes center Antoine Vermette now has eight in his past eight contests... Crosby had his second-lowest scoring month of the season to date with 16 points in January, but he does have six in his past four contests.
Injury report: The Penguins are without forwards Pascal Dupuis (knee), Beau Bennett (wrist), Joe Vitale (wrist) and Chris Conner (hand) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clot). Defenseman Kris Letang is ill… The Coyotes are healthy, though the team placed Tim Kennedy on waivers Friday.