Hockey

Surprising Coyotes hit new heights: Take 5

HNIC's senior online reporter Tim Wharnsby dishes out the latest news, buzz and inside information in the hockey world, including the Phoenix Coyotes' stunning rise to the top of the Pacific Division, and the impressive play of prospects Jordan Eberle and Cody Hodgson.

HNIC's senior online reporter Tim Wharnsby dishes out the latest news, buzz and inside information in the hockey world.

Radim Vrbata, left, helped the surging Phoenix Coyotes to a dramatic 5-4 shootout win over Chicago on Saturday. ((Christian Petersen/Getty Images))

1. Coyotes howl to new heights

Phoenix has climbed into the Pacific Division lead thanks to a franchise record-tying nine-game win streak. The last — and only — time the Coyotes reeled off nine in a row was back in March 1995, when they were known as the Winnipeg Jets. In the current run, five of the nine wins have come in a shootout, including weekend victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. The Coyotes have 12 shootout wins this season, tops in the NHL.

"What can you say about this group that hasn't already been said?" Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after Sunday's triumph in Dallas. "Every night I say I'm concerned about this or that, and they just keep coming up with big efforts. To get in here last night at 3 o'clock, and get very little sleep, and the emotional, hard game we played last night, we played very well."

The Coyotes, 13th in the Western Conference last season, can extend their streak to double digits and move into sole possession of first place in the West with a win in Chicago on Tuesday.

2. Sharks have little bite

At the other end of the spectrum are the San Jose Sharks, who dropped their fifth consecutive game when they lost 5-1 to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. Joe Thornton has scored only twice in 10 games since the Olympics, while goalie Evgeni Nabokov has gone 3-6-0 following his stinker against Canada in Vancouver. The Russian goalie’s save percentage is an alarming .874 since the Olympics.

Nabokov was asked if he needs to steal a game to get the Sharks on track. "Absolutely," he said after the loss in Edmonton. "It would be nice to have a perfect game, but that's not happening right now. It's quite embarrassing, to be honest with you, to lose that way. It's one thing to lose the game, but another to lose the game the way we've been losing lately."

3. Stanley Cup finalists return to the scene

A little more than nine months after the Pittsburgh Penguins skated into Joe Louis Arena and won the Stanley Cup over the Detroit Red Wings thanks to Max Talbot’s pair of goals in a 2-1 win in Game 7, the Penguins return to the site of the celebration on Monday.

Both teams enter the rematch desperate for two points. The Red Wings, in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90, are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Penguins have dropped four of their past six games and have allowed the New Jersey Devils to close within two points in the chase for top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Devils have a game in hand.

"I think it will be good for our team, to get the emotion of that game," Penguins centre Jordan Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That atmosphere is always tough to play in. I think it will be a good team for our team to play right now."

The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in a shootout on Jan. 31 in Pittsburgh.

4. Eberle off to good start in minors

Regina Pats junior star Jordan Eberle made an impact in his first three games with the Edmonton Oilers' farm club, the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. The 19-year-old Eberle scored a goal in each game and finished the weekend with six points. He now has six goals and 15 points in 12 AHL games over two stints, the first of which came last spring. The Oilers, though, maintain that Eberle won’t be promoted for a look in Edmonton this season.

5. Hodgson returns in big way

Vancouver Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson returned to the Brampton Battalion lineup and contributed to his junior team’s opening 4-2 and 5-1 wins in the first round of the OHL playoffs against the Kingston Frontenacs. He missed the final three weeks of the regular season with a broken toe.

Hodgson scored the game-winner and assisted on another in the series opener and checked in with a short-handed marker in Game 2. The 20-year-old missed the first four months of the season with a troublesome back ailment.

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