Winners in seven of their past eight games, the Phoenix Coyotes look to continue their strong play as they play the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the United Center.
The Coyotes (13-4-2) are coming off a 3-2 overtime victory in St. Louis over the Blues on Tuesday, with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scoring just 56 seconds into the extra session. Ekman-Larsson’s goal gave him three consecutive games with a point, and goalie Mike Smith stopped 37 of 39 shots in the game.
Smith leads the NHL in saves and shots faced, and has seen 30 or more shots in six of his past seven starts. Facing a Blackhawks team that is second in the league with 34.1 shots per game, the Phoenix goalie knows he will have his hands full once again.
”I don’t love it. It’s just the way things have worked out so far,’ Smith said following the win over the Blues. “Obviously, we want to tighten that up and get those shot totals down.
“Right now, we’re just happy to get the two points.”
Phoenix has gotten that often of late when visiting the United Center, winning six straight games there. Three of them came in the first round of the 2012 Western Conference playoffs, when the Coyotes ousted the Blackhawks in six games.
“Phoenix has our number in this building,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after practice Tuesday. “It seems like whatever it is, we’ve got to find a way to end it. They play a very good team game, they’re one of those teams that plays a very tight, patient game and something we have to be aware of.”
Chicago (12-2-4) comes into the game on a roll itself with a seven-game point streak (6-0-1) to move into a tie atop the Central Division. Quenneville’s next victory will move him ahead of Mike Keenan, who amassed 153 of his 672 wins with the Blackhawks, for fifth on the all-time list
Winger Patrick Sharp has been the catalyst of late for the reigning Stanley Cup champions, recovering from a slow start to score seven points over the team’s past three games. In two meetings versus Smith and the Coyotes last season, Sharp had five points, including a three-assist game in February.
Corey Crawford will start for the Blackhawks despite some recent struggles against Phoenix. Crawford lost his last two decisions against the Coyotes - one in a shootout - and was also pulled early from a game in 2011 after allowing three goals in 22 minutes.
Both the Coyotes and Blackhawks have scored 14 power-play goals this season, tied for fifth-most in the NHL. However, Chicago has one of the worst penalty kill percentages in the league at 74.5 percent after allowing the Oilers to convert both their chances in Sunday’s 5-4 win at Edmonton.
”Their power play ignited their offense,” Quenneville said. ”But still, it was one of those games where we stuck with it, which was important, and found a way to win.”
Phoenix has been a slow starter this season, scoring just 11 first-period goals. However, when they do score early, the Coyotes have made those goals count, as they are 8-0-0 this year when leading after 20 minutes.
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