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Keller-Schmaltz-Garland Combo Hopes to Bite Blues

New unit seeks to sharpen Coyotes' attack

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Rick Tocchet is ready to sic a new unit on the Blues, but says he'll keep it on a "short leash."

Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, and Conor Garland are expected to debut as the Coyotes' top line when the team opens its six-game road trip Tuesday night in St. Louis. 

Tocchet knows it's a balance of risk and reward, uniting three of the team's top offensive weapons into one.

Tocchet used the trio when he juggled lines following the first period Thursday night against the Ducks. The line produced a goal early in the third period, setting a crucial late-game tone in the 3-2 win over Anaheim.

Video: ANA@ARI: Keller whacks home Garland's feed

"I think that gave us some juice there," Tocchet said. 

Keller returns home tonight, playing for the seventh time at Enterprise Center, where he grew up watching the Blues. Keller has nine points (2G, 7A) in 11 career games against his hometown club, and is excited to play alongside Garland and Schmaltz.

"I think we all complement each other," Keller said. "We all do things a bit differently. I think if we stay close and stay tight together, we're going to get a lot of chances. We can all play good on the rush, but we've got to worry about the defensive zone just as much. I think if we're good down there, then we'll get a lot of chances." 

Tocchet expanded on Keller's defensive zone focus.

"That group here, I've got a close watch on them," Tocchet said. "They've got to be able to defend the puck. They can't give up. That's the one thing with that line is -- they've got to be able to get that puck first before they do anything, instead of flying around without the puck. As much as it can be good, they have to understand that they have to be able to defend the puck before they leave the zone or before they do anything, actually."

The three have combined for 17 points (8G, 9A) this year. Garland leads the group with seven points (4G, 3A).

"Anyone's going to mesh well with a player like Kells, or Schmaltzy for that matter," Garland said. "They're guys who can control the game when they have the puck on their stick and make elite plays that not many people in the world can make. So, I'm always excited to get on a line with those types of guys."

Keller analyzed the combination thusly: "(Garland and Schmaltz) both have a lot of poise with the puck. Schmaltzy is obviously flying through the middle. He's really quick and kind of backs the other team's defense off. 'G' is a little bit similar to me; he's always in the corners winning a lot of battles. I think he and I can be down there and really grind teams down. We might not be the biggest guys, but we know we're strong on our sticks. It's a challenge for us."

Garland says their camaraderie is a strength.

"Most importantly, we're pretty close, we're constantly talking about hockey, about stuff we see in games at night," he said. "We're pretty close. So, if something goes wrong on the ice, we're not afraid to get mad at each other knowing that nothing's going to come of it. I think when you play with guys like Kells and Schmaltzy, you can have success."

Said Tocchet: "We'll see tonight how it goes. It's a short-leash line, that's what I call them. I love the guys, but they've got to understand how to play the right way."

Lead Photo Credit: Joe Puetz - Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images

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