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Coyotes host Canucks in clash between first-place teams

Heading into the trade deadline atop the NHL standings didn't stop the Canucks from tinkering with their roster. A strong February has the Coyotes happy right where they are.

The two first-place clubs do battle this evening as Phoenix takes aim at a sixth straight victory in a clash with Vancouver.

The Canucks have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 17 games, with a 12-1-4 run vaulting them one point ahead of the Rangers and two up on the Red Wings and Blues for the most points in the league. Vancouver also owns a 17-point edge for first place in the Northwest Division.

Despite their recent run of success, the Canucks were active prior to Monday's trade deadline. They added a veteran center in Samuel Pahlsson, rescuing the checker from the last-place Blue Jackets for defenseman Taylor Ellington and a pair of fourth-round picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Pahlsson was in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with the Jackets in the summer of 2009 and has two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 61 games this season.

After adding the grinder to the roster, the Canucks dealt young center Cody Hodgson, the 10th overall pick of the 2008 draft who had 16 goals in 63 games this season, and defenseman Alexander Sulzer to Buffalo for winger Zack Kassian and blueliner Marc-Andre Gragnani. Kassian was the 13th player taken in the 2009 draft and has seven points this season.

"I think we got more balance in our lineup, more diversified," said Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis. "If you look at center ice, we've got a lot of strength with a lot of veteran players there and the only real power forward we have on our team would be David Booth with that kind of size and speed and we now have a younger player, whose 21, who has that. With Marc- Andre we got a puck moving defenseman who can play on the power play and he's got really good offensive skills."

Perhaps the results of Sunday's defeat in Dallas prompted Vancouver to add a player like Pahlsson. The Canucks were on the verge of picking up two points, but gave up the game-tying goal with 52 seconds left in regulation and the game-winner at 3:52 of overtime to suffer a 3-2 setback.

Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond had the goals and Chris Higgins ended with two assists for the Canucks, who fell to 3-1-1 on a six-game road trip that began in Edmonton and moved out east before taking the club to Dallas. Vancouver will get to play seven straight at home after wrapping the swing tonight.

"It's been a tough trip, we've been all over the country and played a lot of games in not a lot of nights, so it's good we got a point, but I thought we deserved two," Higgins said.

Roberto Luongo was touched for three goals on 28 shots in the loss.

Phoenix has also been red-hot as of late, with its current 11-game point streak having moved it atop the Pacific Division, two points up on San Jose. The Coyotes are 10-0-1 in the month of February and picked up a fifth straight victory with Saturday's 3-1 triumph in Edmonton.

Mike Smith made 21 saves to extend his career-high winning streak to 10 games, also a franchise record, while Shane Doan scored late to reach 20 goals in a season for the 11th time in his career. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ray Whitney also scored, with Whitney now having six points over his last five games.

"We're happy with what we have done up until now," Whitney said. "We've played well at times and competed hard most of the time. But we have to be careful not to get too excited or overconfident."

Whitney shouldn't have to worry about that tonight given that the Canucks have won four of the last five encounters in this series. That includes both meetings so far in 2011-12, with Vancouver posting a 5-0 win at Phoenix on Nov. 25 and then a 2-1 shootout win at home on Feb. 13.

Backup Cory Schneider made 21 saves in the shutout victory and Ryan Kesler had the game-winning goal in the sixth round of the rematch in February.

The Canucks have won three straight in Phoenix.