The Anaheim Ducks were expected to be in the hunt for first place in the Pacific Division, but it’s the Phoenix Coyotes who are the surprising contenders and Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) is a big reason for their resurgence.
The goaltender will likely get the start Saturday night against his former team as he looks for a second consecutive shutout when the Coyotes host the Ducks.
The Coyotes (8-4-0) are surprisingly in the thick of the race for the Pacific lead after missing the playoffs for a team-record sixth consecutive time last season, while finishing tied with Los Angeles for last in the division.
This season, it’s the Ducks (4-6-1) occupying the cellar of the Pacific after reaching the playoffs as the eighth seed last spring, upsetting San Jose in the opening round before falling to Detroit in six games in the semifinals.
Anaheim is just three seasons removed from winning its only Stanley Cup.
Phoenix’s impressive start is its best since posting a franchise-record 20 points in 12 games during October 2000, and Bryzgalov is playing a key role.
Bryzgalov came up big again Thursday, making 32 saves in a 2-0 win at St. Louis. It was his 11th career shutout and ninth with the Coyotes.
Bryzgalov was a second-round pick by Anaheim in 2000. He went 26-23-8 with a 2.48 GAA in 69 games, spending most of his time as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) until being waived on Nov. 16, 2007. Phoenix claimed him a day later and made him its starter.
He’s 5-4-2 with a 2.97 GAA in 11 games against his former club.
While Bryzgalov is turning in a superb opening month, the Coyotes’ scoring is spread out with 15 players accounting for 31 goals and defenseman Ed Jovanovski(notes) and right wing Radim Vrbata(notes) leading the way with four each.
“That’s what I think the identity of our team is - we’re going to score by committee and get good goaltending that gives us a chance to win,” coach Dave Tippett said.
The Coyotes went 2-3-1 against the Ducks last season, posting a 1-1-1 mark at Jobing.com Arena.
Anaheim is looking to build on Friday’s 7-2 win over Vancouver, snapping a season-high four-game slide.
“I felt like we came out with the hustle and determination that we talked about,” said left wing Bobby Ryan(notes), who had two goals and an assist. “A lot of times lately, a couple of early goals has kind of taken the wind out of our sails. But we stayed together as a group tonight and we made sure that we showed some resilience.”
Corey Perry(notes), who had two goals and an assist against the Canucks, has been hot over the last four games, totaling three goals and four assists. The right wing leads the team with seven goals and 14 points after setting career highs with 32 and 72, respectively, last season.
Perry has four goals in the last four meetings with Phoenix.