Coyotes-Thrashers Preview

After building some momentum with three consecutive home wins,

the Phoenix Coyotes’ first road game in a month didn’t seem to faze


Based on their history against the Atlanta Thrashers, their next

stop shouldn’t either.

Phoenix looks to run its winning streak to five Sunday as it

continues a four-game road trip against the fading Thrashers, who

have lost five straight overall and can claim only one victory in

franchise history against the Coyotes.

While Phoenix (41-22-5) may have been a surprise in the season’s

first half, the success of one of the NHL’s youngest teams can

hardly be considered startling anymore.

The Coyotes went into the Olympic break on a two-game losing

streak and fell to St. Louis in their first game after, but have

since gotten back on track. Phoenix beat Colorado, Anaheim and

Vancouver before hitting the road, then got two goals apiece from

Lee Stempniak and Martin Hanzal on Saturday to kick off its swing

with a 4-0 win over Carolina.

Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves for his NHL-leading eighth


“Just a solid road game,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.

“(Bryzgalov) cleaned up the few chances that we gave up, but other

than that we had a real good group effort.”

Stempniak, who came over from last-place Toronto on March 3, has

looked like a world-class sniper in his first four games with the

Coyotes. The winger scored 14 goals in 62 games with the Maple

Leafs, but has five goals and an assist so far with Phoenix playing

on the third line with Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler.

“(Stempniak’s) fit in very well with our team,” Tippett said.

“He’s a hard-working guy. He likes to play the style that we play

and is getting rewarded around the net with some real good puck

play. He’s been a very positive player for us.”

Stempniak has three goals and an assist in his last four games

against the Thrashers (28-29-10), but his new team may not need him

to get by Atlanta. The Coyotes are 10-1-0 with a tie in series

history, though the teams have met just once in the past three


While Phoenix has a two-point lead on Los Angeles for the

Western Conference’s fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the

first round, Atlanta’s playoff chances are dwindling.

Just two points out of the East’s eighth spot heading into the

break, the Thrashers pulled into a tie for the final playoff slot

after winning their first two games following the Olympics.

Suddenly, though, Atlanta’s offense has disappeared. The

Thrashers are now six points behind eighth-place Boston after

totaling six goals during a five-game losing streak, including

Friday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

“Obviously, we have to win some games,” coach John Anderson

said. “I think we pretty much have to win out at home, since we

have a lot of home games. … It looks bleak, but it can change

very quickly.”

Six of Atlanta’s next seven are at Philips Arena, where Chris

Chelios made his home debut Friday. The 48-year-old, 11-time

All-Star defenseman might not be the ideal candidate to lift the

Thrashers’ offense out of the doldrums, but he knows a thing or two

about making the postseason.

“You have to keep things simple,” said Chelios, now in his 26th

season. “You have to play playoff hockey. Every goal is huge.”