TORONTO – There are no easy games in the NHL.
That is the message Toronto Maple Leafs coach Peter Horachek is sending his players as they prepare to play the Arizona Coyotes at Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
"We cannot look at any games and think they are any easier than any other night," Horachek said. "The Coyotes have high-end players on the back end with [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson and [Keith] Yandle, and they have [Shane] Doan and [Antoine] Vermette in their lineup. They are well-coached and a very disciplined team that capitalizes on your mistakes and turnovers. You have to focus on how we want to play and not veer off."
The Maple Leafs (22-23-4) have lost seven in a row and are 3-14-1 in their past 18 games but the news isn't all bad. Toronto picked up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.
Toronto will be playing on back-to-back nights for the 12th time this season when it plays Arizona (16-25-6). The Maple Leafs are 5-5-1 in the second half of games played on back-to-back nights.
Though the Maple Leafs have struggled on offense of late, their penalty-killing has been superb. Toronto has not allowed a power-play goal in five games and has successfully killed off 15 straight penalties.
Horachek said he views shootout losses, like the one the Maple Leafs experienced in New Jersey, more like a tie with the opposition getting a bonus point.
"The main thing is to take a positive in how you played," Horachek said. "We did not want to have a lapse in the first period; we wanted to make sure we were not making blatant errors. Our chances were more than double their chances but we were unable to score those goals that we needed at the right time. We have to take solace in the fact we are moving in the right direction and we have to stay on course."
The Coyotes lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout Tuesday and have picked up points in two of their past three games. Just like the Maple Leafs, however, the Coyotes cannot afford to take their struggling opponent lightly.
"Obviously we have been struggling in the first half of the season and we want to try to improve our game," Ekman-Larsson said. "We want to find ways to win hockey games. We cannot worry about the team we are playing. We have to focus on what we are trying to do."
Here are the projected lineups:
Tobias Rieder - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Martin Erat - Martin Hanzal - Sam Gagner
Brandon McMillan - Kyle Chipchura - David Moss
Lucas Lessio - Brendan Shinnimin - Lauri Korpikoski
Keith Yandle - Michael Stone
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Andrew Campbell - Connor Murphy
Scratched: Chris Summers, B.J. Crombeen, Brendan Shinnimin
Injured: Mikkel Boedker (spleen), Joe Vitale (upper body)
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - David Clarkson
Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Mike Santorelli
David Booth - Trevor Smith - Richard Panik
Korbinian Holzer - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Roman Polak
Jake Gardiner - Petter Granberg
Scratched: Stuart Percy
Injured: Dion Phaneuf (hand), Stephane Robidas (upper body)
Status report: Joffrey Lupul, sidelined since Dec. 31 with a lower-body injury, was activated and will be available. ... The Maple Leafs assigned right wing Josh Leivo to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. … Vitale left the game Tuesday late in the first period and will be replaced by Shinnimin, who was summoned from Portland of the AHL.
Who's hot: Van Riemsdyk has scored goals in back-to-back games for the Maple Leafs. … Clarkson has points in his past two games. … Rieder has goals in two of the Coyotes past three games.