After a spotty start to the season, Mike Smith has more recently resembled the dominant goaltender he was in 2011-12. The Phoenix Coyotes have benefited as a result, winning three of their last four.
The Colorado Avalanche offense remains anemic, and it may continue to struggle -- especially if Smith makes his sixth straight start for the Coyotes. Phoenix will try to win for the ninth time in 11 tries in the series Monday night in Denver.
Smith is 4-0-1 in five career starts against the Avalanche, posting a .965 save percentage and 1.18 goals-against average.
The Coyotes (5-5-2) started off 2-4-2, with Smith compiling a 4.00 GAA across four starts and spending a week on the injured list.
Phoenix's lone loss in its last four contests was a 6-2 defeat against Chicago on Thursday in which Smith was pulled after stopping just 16 of 22 shots. But he rebounded Saturday for his strongest performance of the season, making 33 saves in a 1-0 shootout victory at San Jose.
It was the second shutout in the last four games for Smith and the 21st of his career.
"He was excellent," coach Dave Tippett said. "He made some big saves at the right time. ... When you don't give up any goals you give your team a chance to win."
Over the last four games, Smith owns a .926 save percentage -- even including the poor showing against the Blackhawks. He's stopped 71 of 72 shots -- a .986 percentage -- in Phoenix's last three wins.
Still, he believes he can be better, a scary thought for opponents after he was among the league leaders with a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts last season.
"I haven't played my best hockey as of this year so far," Smith said.
Phoenix's physical defense is also helping matters, ranking among the league leaders with 16.1 blocked shots and 27.2 hits per game.
The Avalanche (4-6-0) have lost five of seven overall and two straight at home as their offense remains among the NHL's worst with 2.1 goals per game. Colorado's 7.1 shooting percentage also ranks near the bottom of the league.
It's the only team to be shut out three times already this season, the latest a 3-0 home loss to Anaheim on Wednesday. Colorado has totaled two goals in its back-to-back home defeats after scoring 10 during a 3-0-0 start in Denver.
The Avalanche came up empty on 31 shots against the Ducks and missed their lone power-play chance, slipping to 3 for 33 on the man advantage.
"We've got to find a way to score, bottom line," said Matt Duchene, who is tied for the team's points lead with nine. "We've been shut out three times in 10 games; it's unacceptable. ... It's a joke."
Captain Gabriel Landeskog, last season's NHL rookie of the year, has missed six straight games with head and leg injuries and remains out indefinitely.
A four-game point streak by Phoenix's Martin Hanzal came to an end against San Jose when he left the game for precautionary reasons.
The Coyotes took three of four meetings last season, outscoring Colorado 15-7.