Blue Jackets-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 22, 2013
The Phoenix Coyotes rode goaltender Mike Smith to the first division title in franchise history last season, but his struggles are a major reason why the Pacific Division champions are winless in 2012-13. A strong performance from their goalie has the Columbus Blue Jackets off to a surprisingly good start. Phoenix looks to avoid its worst start since relocating to the desert Wednesday night when it hosts the Blue Jackets, who are trying to go their first three games without a regulation loss for the first time in six seasons. Smith has struggled to follow up his career season of 2011-12, when he posted personal bests of 38 wins and a 2.21 goals-against average. He allowed 10 goals on 57 shots in the Coyotes' first two games. The most goals he gave up in back-to-back starts in 2011-12 was eight, but he allowed all the goals in a 6-4 loss to Chicago on Sunday. "We had unacceptable goaltending in both games and there's no excuse for it," Smith told the Coyotes' official website. "I'm letting down the whole team and if you score seven goals in two games you should win both of them. We need to clean up our game in some areas but it starts with me and I haven't been good enough." Neither have the Coyotes (0-2-0), who haven't lost their first three games since 1985-86 when the franchise was based in Winnipeg. The Blue Jackets (1-0-1) finished with a league-worst 65 points last season and rarely get off to good starts, but they have a chance to open with points in three straight for the first time since 2006-07. Sergei Bobrovsky, acquired from Philadelphia, deserves as much credit as anyone for the Blue Jackets being in that position. Starting both games ahead of Steve Mason, he's turned aside 71 of 76 shots as well as eight of 10 in the two shootouts. He made 39 saves in a 4-3 loss to Detroit on Monday. "Our goalie was great again," coach Todd Richards said. The Blue Jackets know they need to cut down on penalties, but they've killed off seven of eight short-handed situations. That's a small sample size, but still a nice improvement from last season with they were last in the NHL on the penalty kill at 76.6 percent. Columbus, though, was nearly flawless in those situations against Phoenix last season, thwarting 10 of 11 chances in winning three of four in the series. The three victories matched the Blue Jackets' highest total against any team in 2011-12. The Coyotes avoided a season sweep in the last meeting, winning 2-0 at home April 3 behind Smith's career-high 54 saves. Phoenix has taken six of the last eight at home versus Columbus.
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