GLENDALE – The Coyotes will return to home ice on Thursday for the first of three home games in five nights.
Phoenix will enter Thursday’s game vs. Vancouver with a four-game losing streak and in ninth place in the Western Conference standings.
“I thought we pushed hard in the third period,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said after the team’s 2-1 loss at St. Louis on Tuesday night. “We pushed hard to get a chance to get points. It’s unfortunate we didn’t.”
Tippett is hoping the Coyotes can build on that third-period performance vs. the Blues, in which they allowed a season-low two shots to reach goalie Mike Smith.
“I thought he was solid,” Tippett said of Smith, who stopped 16 of 18 shots. “I thought we were solid in front of him, too. We gave up a few chances early but after that, we were pretty solid. That’s what we need. It has to be a group effort if you’re going to be successful. Your goaltender needs to play well, but we have to play well in front of him.”
Captain Shane Doan is not a believer in moral victories, but he, too, liked what the Coyotes accomplished in the third period vs. St. Louis.
“The process was a lot better,” Doan said. “Obviously, the results weren’t there and we’re in a results business so we have to make sure we take care of that, but the process was there.”
After the Vancouver game on Thursday, the Coyotes will host New Jersey on Saturday and Toronto on Monday. Phoenix is 3-0-0 vs. the Devils and 3-0-0 vs. the Maple Leafs at home since 2006-07.
After not scoring a goal in 23 consecutive games, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has scored a goal in each of the past two and has six on the season. Despite the drought, only Michael Stone (eight) has scored more goals this season among Phoenix defensemen.
Ekman-Larrson, who leads the team in ice time at 24:56 per game, has looked fresh since returning from a two-game absence to recover from an upper-body injury suffered vs. Columbus on Jan. 2. He tied his career high with six shots on goal vs. St. Louis on Tuesday, and if he can score vs. Vanocuver on Thursday he will match his career-high for a goal-scoring streak.
“I think the rest has done him some good,” Tippett said. “He’s come back and played very well.”
Ekman-Larsson, of course, is one of five Coyotes who will not get a break from competing when the NHL suspends play next month so its players can take part in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Ekman-Larrson will play for Sweden at the Games in Sochi, Russia. The other Coyotes headed to Sochi are Smith (Canada), Lauri Korpikoski (Finland), Martina Hanzal (Czech Republic) and Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic).
Michalek, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17 because of a lower-body injury, continues to progress although no timetable has been made public for his return to games.
Michalek accompanied the team on its recent two-game trip to Winnipeg and St. Louis and skated each day.
Despite missing 22 games, Michalek still leads the Coyotes with 72 blocked shots. Keith Yandle is second with 60 in 46 games.
The Coyotes sent defenseman Connor Murphy to the American Hockey League on Sunday after they noticed a drop in his performance last week.
“The last two or three games his game fell off a little bit, but we put him in tough situations,” Tippett said. “… He gets up and gets some time but (now he) goes back to make sure his game is in order.”
He added, “He’s a young player still with lots to learn, but (there is a) huge upside on Connor.”
Murphy, 20, has played 21 games for the Coyotes this season. He has chipped in one goal and seven assists and is plus-3.