The Colorado Avalanche, fresh off their overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres, welcome the playoff-contending Phoenix Coyotes to Pepsi Center, the third of five straight home games for Colorado.
This is the first of two visits to Denver this month for the Coyotes, who are only three points behind the Avalanche in the playoff standings, but remain in last place in the Pacific Division (where only three points separate four teams). Phoenix doesn't boast many offensive players -- only four players have 20 or more points on the season -- but they have survived this year on the strength of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and their NHL-leading eight overtime losses. Fortunately for Colorado, backup goalie Jason LaBarbera will be getting the start in net tonight, giving Bryzgalov a night to rest. LaBarbera is 4-5-2 this season with a woeful 3.47 GAA.
Despite Phoenix's ability to hang on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture, numbers can be deceiving. Aside from a seven-game winning streak in the middle of November, Phoenix has not won two straight games all season. They have allowed three or more goals in eight of their past 10 games, a number that favors the Avalanche heavily. Their power play also rates towards the bottom of the league at 16.55%; this also favors the Avalanche.
This game also features several players who are very familiar with the opposing bench. Former Avalanche player Wojtek Wolski returns to Pepsi Center in the midst of a disappointing first full year in Phoenix, with just 16 points in 34 games played. Expected to provide an offensive lift to the Coyotes, he has been inconsistent at best and has seen his playing time diminish, at times being a healthy scratch. Avalanche players Kevin Porter (acquired in the Wolski trade, along with Peter Mueller) and Daniel Winnik (acquired for a fourth round pick from Phoenix) are both former Phoenix players who know the system well and will get plenty of opportunity against their former club.
Colorado is in the midst of a home-heavy stretch of games. Eight of their next 10 games are all at Pepsi Center and, with Vancouver charging ahead in the standings, the Avalanche need to take hold of every advantage and get two points in winnable games. Phoenix is a good opponent, but does not match up well against Colorado.
Jason LaBarbera and Craig Anderson will be in net.
Puck drops at 7:00pm MST.