Nov 12, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) makes a save against St. Louis Blues right wing T.J. Oshie (74) during the third period at the Scottrade Center. The Coyotes defeated the Blues 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avalanche - Coyotes

Who: Phoenix Coyotes (14-4-3)

When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT

Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (10-5-0), PHX – Mike Smith (12-3-3)

The Dangermen: Phoenix has long been a team that has gotten by on goaltending and defense that it’s almost stunning – check that, it IS stunning – to see that they are fourth in the league right now in goals-per-game (Colorado is fifth).

Nov 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Phoenix Coyotes right wing Shane Doan (19) celebrates scoring a goal during the first period against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

They are comprised of familiar faces who just decided to start having fantastic seasons. Martin Hanzal is at a point-per-game pace and leading the team with 18 points. Radim Vrbata has 17 points. Shane Doan leads the team with 10 goals. It just goes on like that.

Newcomer Mike Ribeiro has fit right in on the top line with Doan, posting 16 points. They team has a whopping nine players with double-digits in points and it seems they get points from all over the place, both forwards and defense. Chances and shots are going to come from everywhere and everyone; the Avalanche need to be ready.

The Defenders: Phoenix gives up its fair share of goals, sitting 24th in the league in goals against per game. But this group of defensemen contributes more than fairly to the strong goal totals this team is sport, so it balances out.

Leading the way is one of the best defensemen in the league right now, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. His 16 points ties him for third on the team and he is an all-around elite defender. Sooner or later, he’s going to be recognized for that with some hardware and not just by nerds like me.

Keith Yandle also has 16 points thanks to a team-high 15 assists. He might be the slickest of puck-movers on the back end and is a fantastic passer. Derek Morris, longtime solid vet, has 10 points of his own though he’s been battle injury and is questionable for tonight.

Michael Stone has six goals on the year, good enough for 2nd on the team (with three others). Only Rusty Klesla is left saying “I’ll worry about defense and defense only” with his two points in a dozen games.

They can be dangerous to others and themselves depending on what side of the ice they are on. The Avalanche wingers need to be responsible and make sure to not give these guys any more opportunity than they are already getting.

Puck Stoppers Inc.:  Part of the problem with that high goal total has to be put on Mike Smith, but how do you really go after a guy who’s 12-3-3? The team is winning, but Smith has merely been okay: 2.87 GAA and .917 save percentage aren’t bad, but you wouldn’t think a guy possessing those stats would be 12-3-3.

He’s still pretty good, but not the dynamic game-stealer he was a couple of years ago. His age is showing and he is dominant anymore. If the Avalanche can get to him early like they did to Corey Crawford and Chicago, they can crack this streaking team.

How the Avs match up: Speed will be the name of the game for the Avalanche as it usually is. When they’re fast and physical, they can dominate. They have enough talent to spread across three lines and be equally as dangerous.

Special teams will continue to be a theme as the Avalanche cannot keep giving team chances, especially a team in the top five in scoring. There are too many viable scoring options for the Coyotes right now to give them anything extra.

Getting to Smith early and often is the best way to disrupt this scorching hot team (8-1-1 in their last 10) and they’ve seen it work against the equally strong Blackhawks.

Key Matchup: Avs vs an early start

Cower in fear if: Mike Smith: Game-Stealer shows his face again.

Coyotes deep forward lines start to roll.

The Avalanche don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.

Laugh maniacally if: The Avalanche get to Smith early a la Crawford.

Superhuman Varly shows his face again.

The offense continues to roll despite missing Duchene.

Silly predictions: MacKinnon gets on the board tonight; Smith will make at least one “holy schnikes” save; one team gets started early but it will get closer in the third period; Mike Ribeiro will make me hate him for at least a solid minute.

Final:  4-3 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Mike Smith NHL Oliver Ekman-Larsson Phoenix Coyotes Semyon Varlamov Shan Doan

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