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Coyotes Look To Stay Hot, Host Struggling Atlanta Thrashers

The Phoenix Coyotes will look to maintain their spot in the Western Conference standings on Thursday, when they play host to the Atlanta Thrashers at Arena.

Phoenix heads into Thursday's tilt with 69 points, good for third in the Western Conference. While that's good news, it can't be overlooked that seeds four through eight have 68, meaning the Coyotes can't afford a slip like they had in the latter half of January.

The Thrashers have been a contrast to the Coyotes of late, winning just two of their last 10. After starting off as one of the hotter teams in the NHL, Atlanta meets the Coyotes as the 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a playoff spot.

Atlanta's contract extension for defenseman Dustin Byfuglien has given this team a bit of hope moving forward though. The embattled club that has lost the likes of Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk in their brief history finally has a solid foundation to build on with the Norris Trophy candidate Byfuglien.

The Coyotes' recent turnaround can be described using one word: defense. A team that was built to be a defensive squad finally discovered their identity after that whooping they received against the Vancouver Canucks, and have rattled off five straight wins since.

During that streak, Phoenix has allowed just six goals, with Ilya Bryzgalov stopping 127 shots of the 133 he's faced. His blueliners in front of him, which are finally healthy, have blocked almost 70 shots over that span.

Looking towards the forward lines, Radim Vrbata heads into Thursday's game as easily the team's hottest forward of late. After scoring just three goals in the entire month of January, Vrbata has four goals during the streak. He's also notched points in four consecutive games, with six points.

Those two game-winning goals, as well as the shootout winner against the Chicago Blackhawks, don't look too bad, either.

Not only would a win by Phoenix make them one of three teams in the West with over 70 points, but a win combined with a loss by the Detroit Red Wings, who are visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning, would put them just three points back of the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

Puck drops at 7 P.M. local time.