Coyotes host Blues in key West Division matchup

NHL Hockey

The battle for the fourth West Division playoff spot will intensify Saturday when the Arizona Coyotes play host to the St. Louis Blues at Glendale, Ariz.

The Blues sit in fourth place, one point ahead of the Coyotes, and they have played two fewer games.

“Huge game, four-point swing against St. Louis,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said, leading into the final regular-season game between the teams.

It has been a tightly contested series: The Coyotes are 4-2-1, the Blues 3-3-1, and each team has scored 20 goals.

Overall, though, the Coyotes have lost five straight games, falling to fifth place in the division.

“We need to win a game just to get us to feel good about ourselves, and just go from there,” Tocchet said. “You can’t win five in a row. One at a time, and that’s what we have to do.”

The Coyotes got goaltender Antti Raanta off injured reserve for their last game, a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. But goaltender Darcy Kuemper (lower body) and defenseman Jordan Gross (lower body) remain sidelined with injuries.

AHL call-up Michael Bunting has six goals and an assist in nine games.

“I don’t think guys are giving up,” Tocchet said. “I think guys understand that we’ve got to plug the leak right now. Hopefully, we get some healthy bodies back to brighten us up a little bit. But in the meantime, Saturday night’s a big game.”

The Blues have been anticipating the game at Arizona for some time.

Two weeks ago, they were amid a 0-6-1 downturn that imperiled their playoff hopes and the April 12 NHL trade deadline was just a week away.

“What I was hoping for last Wednesday was, ‘We have to get to next Saturday being a meaningful game in Arizona,'” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We were five points back with a game in hand.”

The Blues promptly won three consecutive games before Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. That streak convinced Armstrong not to sell off any players before the NHL trade deadline.

“Now we’re one point up,” Armstrong said. “So the players have done their job of getting to that game because the team we were chasing, is now chasing us. You want to make these games meaningful. The guys have done a really good job of getting there.”

Several Blues forwards remain in scoring slumps. Brayden Schenn hasn’t scored a goal in 16 games, although he does have five assists in that stretch. Jaden Schwartz has just two goals in his 20 games since Jan. 26, and Vladimir Tarasenko has just three goals in his 18 games this season since recovering from shoulder surgery.

“I’m trying to bring different elements whether it’s getting into a fight here or trying to work hard or (be) physical, whatever,” said Schenn, who has 12 goals after averaging 24.2 for the past five seasons. “You gotta try and find other ways to be effective on the ice if you’re not getting it done offensively.”

The Blues are also missing top nine forward Robert Thomas, who is sidelined by an upper-body injury. On the plus side, winger Mike Hoffman has four goals and an assist in his last two games.

–Field Level Media

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