The Phoenix Coyotes may get a big boost Saturday night as they make a push for the playoffs, as there’s a chance goaltender Mike Smith will return when the Coyotes try to extend the league-worst Colorado Avalanche’s road skid to 14 games.
Phoenix (16-15-6) has 38 points for 11th place in the crowded Western Conference standings, trailing eighth-place St. Louis by four points.
Smith has missed the last six games with a head injury but returned to practice Friday and will be a game-time decision Saturday.
“Tomorrow morning at skate we’ll decide which direction where we’re going to go in,” coach Dave Tippett said. “If Smitty’s ready and thinks he can give us a strong game, that’s your No. 1 goalie — he needs to take that ball and run it right now.”
Smith went 0-3-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average in his last five starts before being injured March 21 against Vancouver. The Coyotes have stepped up since he’s been out, going 3-1-2, but there’s no doubt they want their top netminder between the pipes, particularly against the Avalanche.
“It’s obviously a frustrating time to be out of the lineup,” said Smith, who is 5-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA in six career starts against Colorado. “I think this is the time of the year that you want to be part of games, you want to help the team win, help the team get into the playoffs, and obviously it’s been frustrating for me to be out this long.”
The Avalanche (12-20-5) are 0-10-3 during the franchise’s longest road slide since a team-record 18-game skid as the Quebec Nordiques from Jan. 18-April 1, 1990. Phoenix is 9-1-1 in its last 11 meetings with Colorado and 8-0-2 in the last 10 matchups at home.
Tippett, however, doesn’t believe the Avalanche represent a “trap game” for the Coyotes.
“There are no trap games now, because everybody still feels like they have a chance at the playoffs, and they’re no different,” Tippett said. “They’ll come in, they’ll be desperate.”
Smith came up big in the teams’ lone previous meeting this season with a season-high 41 saves in a 3-2 overtime road win for the Coyotes on Feb. 11. Shane Doan scored his second goal of the contest in the extra period and assisted on the other tally.
Colorado comes to town after falling to 2-10-1 in its last 13 overall with Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit at home. Mark Olver and P.A. Parenteau had the goals for the Avalanche, who have seen five of their last six defeats come by one or two goals.
“There were some positives again. We’ve played some good games lately,” Parenteau said. “We’re not getting the results.”
Parenteau and Matt Duchene each have 15 goals to lead the Avalanche, who will have captain Gabriel Landeskog available after he missed the first matchup with a head injury.
Coach Joe Sacco said before Friday’s contest that he will likely start Semyon Varlamov in net Saturday after using Jean-Sebastien Giguere against the Red Wings. Varlamov has allowed a total of nine goals while losing both of his career starts at Phoenix.