The Phoenix Coyotes began the season with doubts about the future of their franchise, but they’ll head into the two-week Olympic break all but certain about their chances of returning to the playoffs.
It has been more than a month since the Coyotes last dropped back-to-back games, a fate they’ll hope to avoid as they host the Dallas Stars on Saturday night in each team’s final game before the break.
Bankruptcy was the reason the Coyotes were making headlines before the season, but Phoenix has since turned heads for a more positive reason, already matching its point total (79) from last season as it tries to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Coyotes (37-20-5) have solidified their hold on fourth place in the Western Conference by going 11-4-0 after losing three straight from Jan. 7-12. They’re 8-2-0 in their last 10 despite playing seven of those games on the road, a stretch they finished with a 2-1 loss at Colorado on Friday night.
Phoenix outshot the Avalanche 24-9 in the final two periods, but went 0 for 5 on the power play in that stretch and couldn’t net the go-ahead goal. The team has one power-play goal in 30 chances in its last eight games.
“We’re just not getting the plays we need to make, and it has to be better,” former Dallas and current Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told the NHL’s official Web site.
With an offense that ranks among the league’s bottom half, the Coyotes have leaned heavily on a strong defense and Russian Olympian Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), who made 23 saves Friday and has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last seven starts.
Bryzgalov is 20-5-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average at home, where the Coyotes have gone 22-8-2 despite the NHL’s lowest average attendance. They’ve won four straight and six of their last seven in Arizona.
Phoenix has already beaten the Stars twice at Jobing.com Arena this season, and its 4-2 win at Dallas on Jan. 31 was the Coyotes’ sixth straight victory overall against their Pacific Division rivals.
But the Stars snapped that skid and Phoenix’s six-game overall winning streak with a 4-0 win over the visiting Coyotes last Saturday, getting two goals from rookie Jamie Benn(notes) and 34 saves from Marty Turco(notes).
Turco could have had another shutout Thursday at Calgary. The Flames scored when Dallas captain Brenden Morrow(notes) put the puck in his own net in the first period, but Turco still stopped 33 shots and the Stars bounced back for a 3-1 win.
“I’ve been around long enough and done enough things, good and bad, to be able to put things behind me. I know I have the most fun when we’re winning and I’m playing well and giving these guys a chance to win,” Turco said. “Tonight was a lot of fun. Right at the end of the game, when you squeeze out a tight one in a tough barn against a team that’s hungry and playing well.”
Dallas (27-21-12) improved to 5-2-1 in its last eight games and pulled within a point of Calgary for the West’s final playoff spot. It will need another tough road victory to have any chance of passing the Flames before the break.
The Stars had dropped 13 of 14 on the road prior to Thursday’s win, which featured two goals and an assist from Mike Ribeiro(notes). The veteran center has three goals in two games since returning from a throat injury that kept him out for 15 contests.