COYOTES (5-5-2) at AVALANCHE (4-6-0)
TV: FS-A, ALT
Season series: This is the first of three meetings this season for the Coyotes and Avalanche. The Coyotes took three of four games between the two in 2011-12.
Big story: While Phoenix and Colorado had differing expectations at the start of this season, both teams were eyeing postseason berths and both teams have been plagued by inconsistency. On Monday night, the Coyotes and Avalanche will try to get their houses in order and take a shot at a likely competitor for a place in the West's top eight at the same time.
Coyotes: Phoenix spent January enduring a rocky start to its season and trying to maneuver through the schedule without starting goalie Mike Smith. While the results have left a solid impact -- the Coyotes are five points behind the first-place Anaheim Ducks, who have a game in hand, in the Pacific Division -- Smith is back and there are signs Phoenix is finally getting its feet underneath them. The Coyotes opened their current three-game road trip Saturday afternoon with an impressive 1-0 shootout win against the potent San Jose Sharks.
That win featured Smith's 21st career shutout, a 33-save effort, and by blanking one of the League's top offensive teams, the Coyotes may finally be getting back to their unforgiving defensive ways that paved the road to a Western Conference Finals berth last spring. An even better sign: Phoenix has now won three of its last four, and the Coyotes have just one regulation loss in their last six games.
Avalanche: It's entirely possible the Avalanche will look rusty when they take the ice Monday. Their game against the Coyotes will be their first in five days, the longest gap Colorado will have between games this season. Then again, a break might be a good thing. The Avs' struggles continued in their last outing, a 3-0 shutout loss to Anaheim at Pepsi Center. The loss was the second in a row for Colorado and the fifth in the team's last seven games. The Avalanche now sit in last place in the Northwest, a full eight points back of division leader Vancouver.
Monday's game will wrap up a largely unsuccessful four-game homestand for the Avs, who need a win to salvage a stretch in which they have picked up just two of six potential points on their own ice. To turn their fortunes around the Avalanche will need to get their offense going, something that could be tough against a team known for its stingy defense.
Who's hot: Radim Vrbata's strong season has continued for Phoenix. The Czech winger had assists in two straight games before sealing the Coyotes' win in San Jose in the shootout Saturday. … Jamie McGinn is starting to show some impressive flashes for Colorado. Five of his six points on the season have come in the last four games.
Injury report: Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog (head/neck injury) and Ryan Wilson (leg) are on injured reserve. … Phoenix is still going to be without Matthew Lombardi (upper body) for roughly two more weeks. David Schlemko (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve last week.
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