Coyotes notebook: Smith strong since return

BY foxsports • January 11, 2012

The Coyotes are 1-0-2 in their last three games and -- even with Shane Doan's hat trick in consideration -- Mike Smith is the single biggest reason.

After holding the Kings scoreless through regulation before allowing a disputed goal in Los Angeles last Thursday in his return from injury, Smith held the Islanders to one goal on Saturday and did the same thing to the other New York team for 65 minutes in Madison Square Garden. Smith made several game-saving shots in regulation to get the Coyotes a point, and then made a spectacular stick save to stop Marian Gaborik on a penalty shot in overtime to send the game to a shootout.

"I thought Mike Smith was fantastic and gave us a chance to win. It's just too bad we couldn't get two points," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.

--The Coyotes improved their center situation on a couple of fronts on Tuesday. Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a lower-body injury, bolstering Phoenix's lower two lines. And earlier in the day, general manager Don Maloney claimed Gilbert Brule off re-entry waivers from Edmonton. The former first-round pick of Columbus was playing for Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.

While he's a far cry from the elite center this team craves, Brule has shown some attributes -- a two-way game with the ability to hit and grind and a good faceoff man -- that could make him an effective player at his best. There aren't a lot of centers out there to be had right now, but Brule's acquisition could be an indication that Martin Hanzal, out since Dec. 23 with what appears to be a concussion, might not be returning anytime soon.

--RW Radim Vrbata reached the 20-goal plateau for the third time in his career, all of them as a Phoenix Coyote. His game-tying goal with 8:23 left in regulation topped the 19 goals he had all of last season and earned the Coyotes a point. He also scored the only goal of the shootout for Phoenix, using his patented backhander to give the Coyotes a lead in the second round. But none of his teammates were able to solve Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist.

--D Derek Morris, who has been a healthy scratch for the last month, has played much better since injuries have given him a chance at redemption. Morris was one of the best players on the ice in New York, logging 21 minutes and breaking up several odd-man rushes with sharp plays and a quick stick.

--D Adrian Aucoin (eye) returned after missing only one game. Aucoin took a puck deflected off the stick of Los Angeles' Mike Richards in the right eye last Thursday. The eye was swollen shut over the weekend but improved enough for him to return to the ice.

Aucoin was called for a penalty shot in overtime, but Smith stopped Gaborik to keep Phoenix alive. Aucoin also had a chance to give Phoenix a win in the shootout, but his fourth-round shot hit the post.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--Hanzal (upper body) sat out his eighth straight game with an upper-body injury. Hanzal is back on the ice and skating on his own and the Coyotes are optimistic he is on the road to returning.

--D David Schlemko is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. He was seen at practice Monday wearing a walking boot and didn't accompany the team on their Eastern road trip.

--C Boyd Gordon (lower body) returned after missing seven straight games. He logged 12 minutes and won four of six faceoffs for a team that lost 33 of 47 draws overall.


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