|CHI||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||0|
|PHX||1||1||0||(0 - 0)||2|
BLACKHAWKS (35-10-14) at COYOTES (26-20-10)
Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks have won each of their two games this season against the Phoenix Coyotes. Barring a matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this will be the final time Chicago and Phoenix meet in 2013-14.
Big story: This is the final home game for the Coyotes before the break for the Winter Olympics. Phoenix is sending five players to Sochi. The Blackhawks will be sending a League-high 10 players. Before this game, 10 members of the 1980 gold-medal winning U.S.A. Hockey Team will send those players off during a pre-game ceremony.
The Coyotes are embroiled in a tight race in the Western Conference playoff chase. Phoenix will enter the game one point behind eighth-place Vancouver, which is idle on Friday.
Coyotes: In a departure from past seasons under Head Coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix is scoring at a clip of 2.79 goals per game, its highest rate since 2005-06. However, while the Coyotes have begun to produce offensively they've suffered on the back end, surrendering 2.91 goals per game.
Despite recent home losses to the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres, the Coyotes are still nipping on the Canucks' heels for the final wild card spot in the conference. While the Coyotes still have impressive wins against the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins over their current five-game homestand, the loss to the Stars, with whom the Coyotes are currently tied for ninth in the West, could prove particularly costly.
Phoenix does have one major advantage in the race in that it will have three games in hand on Vancouver when the puck drops on Friday. After hosting the Blackhawks, Phoenix will visit Dallas on Saturday in another game with significant playoff implications before the Olympic break begins.
"I like our mindset right now," Tippett said after Friday's practice. "I think guys realize there’s a break coming but also realize the task at hand... I guarantee you come down to that last couple weeks of the season, every single point you’re going to look back and say, ‘Well, we’re sure glad we got those ones,’ or ‘We should have got those ones.’ So that’s the mindset right now. When you have a break like this, it puts an extra emphasis on finishing well so you can go into the break feeling good about your team."
Mike Smith will start in goal for the Coyotes seeking a third consecutive solid outing. Smith has stopped 60 of 63 shots in the past two games.
"I’m feeling comfortable in there," Smith said. "But for me, it’s just one game at a time and I’m trying to focus on putting that in the past now and just worrying about the next game and not getting too far ahead of myself here. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I’ve got to keep it going."
Blackhawks: No team in the NHL has more players heading to Sochi than Chicago, but as easy as it may be for players to look ahead to the impending Olympic tournament, Chicago's recent performance doesn't betray any lack of focus.
The Blackhawks head into their visit to Phoenix winners of two straight against potential Stanley Cup contenders in the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. Overall, Chicago, which is currently on a seven-game road trip while "Disney on Ice" occupies United Center, has gone 3-0-2 so far on a trip that has also included games against the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.
"I feel like the last month or so there was a lot of games that maybe we didn't play so well, but we were close and we just didn't find a way to get an extra point," captain Jonathan Toews said following the team's 2-0 win in Anaheim on Wednesday. "These last handful of games on this road trip, we're back to playing that smart team-style game that we want."
The recent recovery after a January that saw Chicago win just five of 14 games has enabled the Blackhawks to stave off the hard-charging Blues in the Central race; however, St. Louis still has a decided edge in terms of tiebreakers as well as games in hand.
Who's hot: Coyotes center Antoine Vermette is currently on an eight-game point streak, during which he has eight goals and three assists... Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa has three goals and four assists in the past four games. …
Injury report: Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (lower body) is questionable for Friday, while goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (torn rotator cuff) is out for the season. Forward Patrick Kane will also miss the game so he can attend the funeral of his grandfather.
|Feb 07 '14||CHI 0 at PHX 2||K. Yandle|
|Nov 30 '13||CHI 5 at PHX 2||N. Hjalmarsson|
|Nov 14 '13||PHX 4 at CHI 5 - SO||B. Pirri|