The Phoenix Coyotes will look to turn their fortunes around in 2011 after a rough ending to the 2010 portion of the season. After winning just six games in the month of December, Phoenix will look to turn the ship around beginning with a tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It won't be the Coyotes' first contest of 2011, however. Phoenix already lost their first game of the new year, blowing a late lead and losing a 6-5 shootout to the Minnesota Wild.
Part of the recent struggles relate to starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. While his upper-body injury presented the Coyotes with a huge hole in the crease, in the form of Jason LaBarbera, Bryz hasn't been the same in his three starts since. He's dropped two of his three starts since returning from the injury, while posting a disastrous .861 save percentage.
The one positive of late for the Coyotes has been captain Shane Doan. Doan has put up points in six consecutive games, including a two-goal performance in the Coyotes' last win over the Los Angeles Kings. Doan's 25 points are third on the team, while his nine goals are tied for second, in what could be an All Star year for the longtime captain.
The Blue Jackets come in just one point ahead of the Coyotes in the Western Conference, but have won three of their last four, albeit against some of the NHL's bottom feeders. Goaltender Steve Mason has started the last four games for Columbus, but gave up four goals in his last start. He has never beaten Phoenix, in four career starts.
If Mason doesn't go for the Blue Jackets, it will be backup Mathieu Garon between the pipes. Garon has six career wins against the Yotes in his career, with a 2.25 GAA.
Tuesday marks the first of four contests between these two squads this season. With the Coyotes taking three of the four games last year, they know they have a favorable matchup. That confidence will be necessary for a team that has been very flat in recent weeks, against even the NHL's weaker teams. A home crowd should help to give them a spark early on in the second half of the season.