The Coyotes and Avalanche meet Friday night in a matchup between two of the biggest surprises in the NHL.
Phoenix (37-19-5) is poised to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and has the fourth-highest point total in the NHL with 79. That's what the club finished with last season before Wayne Gretzky resigned as coach nine days before the 2009-10 opener.
Three straight poor seasons under Gretzky are a distant memory right now.
"I expected us to be a very good team and to win," coach Dave Tippett said. "Last year's stuff, I don't know because I wasn't here so I can't get into that stuff. But I recognize and see what this team can do, we have good ability as a group, we play very hard together."
The only Western Conference team with fewer points than Phoenix last season was the Avalanche with 69, and they also began 2009-10 with a new coach in Joe Sacco. Colorado (34-19-6), though, is in a tight race with Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead behind the outstanding goaltending of Craig Anderson and important contributions from youngsters like Chris Stewart, Matt Duchene and T.J. Galiardi.
Anderson became the fourth goalie in franchise history to win 30 games in one season with 33 saves in Wednesday's 4-3 overtime victory over Atlanta. The Avalanche scored twice in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit before Kyle Cumiskey scored the winner.
"We're feeling great right now," said left wing Chris Durno, who had the tying goal with 5:29 left in regulation. "That was a big win, being down 3-1 late in the third. We've got a pretty persistent group in here and it showed again tonight."
Anderson has posted a 1.21 goals-against average during an 8-2 stretch at home for Colorado, which has won four straight at the Pepsi Center heading into the finale of a four-game homestand.
"We wanted to get on a streak here on this homestand and we've done that, three in a row," Cumiskey said. "So (we) hope we can keep that going for our next game against Phoenix."
The Coyotes are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, winning eight of nine. They have won five of six on the road after a 3-2 victory at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Matthew Lombardi put Phoenix ahead for good with a goal in the second period. The center had two goals and three assists two nights earlier in a 6-1 victory over Edmonton.
"He might turn into a winger in a hurry, I don't know," Tippett said. "He's shooting the puck well, he's making real good shots. So we'll see how long it goes. Right now, he's got a hot stick."
Phoenix veterans Shane Doan and Vernon Fiddler both played Wednesday after being listed as questionable with upper-body injuries.
"Our group is a little thin right now," Tippett said. "But we all recognize the importance of these games, the importance of the points."
The Coyotes will try to avenge a 4-1 loss at Colorado on Nov. 4 in the lone meeting this season. Milan Hejduk scored twice for the Avalanche.