The Phoenix Coyotes picked up some crucial points on a week-long road trip, but they'll be looking to bounce back from one of their most disheartening losses of the season when they host the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
The Coyotes (28-22-4) concluded their five-game trip with a 4-3 shootout defeat at Calgary on Tuesday. Phoenix had a three-goal lead in the third period, but was unable to come away with two points.
"It's a real tough one to explain," center Peter Mueller said after the Coyotes gave up three goals in the final 12:59, including the tying goal to Jarome Iginla with 9 seconds left. "They came out hard and we kind of stood back a little bit. We needed to come out and play that last 20 minutes just as hard as we played the first 40."
After opening their five-game road trip with a 4-2 win at Columbus on Jan. 29, the Coyotes finished 2-1-2 and return home in ninth place, one point out of the final playoff spot. Phoenix has won six of its last eight at home.
The Coyotes got another outstanding performance from Mueller in Tuesday's loss, as the 19-year-old rookie scored all three goals for Phoenix.
"It's bittersweet," Mueller said of his second career hat trick. "It's always nice when your line puts a few points up, but right now, those two points for the team are the biggest thing on our minds right now."
Mueller, the NHL rookie of the month for January, has 10 goals and eight assists in his last 13 games. He had two goals in last week's win at Columbus, and a goal and an assist in the Coyotes' 4-3 home loss to the Blue Jackets on Jan. 17.
Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 35 shots Tuesday, but lost his third straight start since beating Columbus last week. Bryzgalov made 22 saves in last week's win over the Blue Jackets, and is 2-2-0 with a 3.55 goals-against average lifetime against them.
|Phoenix Coyotes center Peter Mueller, left, notched a hat-trick on Tuesday in Calgary. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
Columbus (25-23-7) fell 4-3 in overtime to Washington on Tuesday after taking a 2-0 second-period lead. With the loss, the Blue Jackets matched a season-worst four-game skid.
"We played well, but playing well and losing isn't good enough," said left wing Jason Chimera, who scored his ninth goal of the season. "We've got to play well and win."
Tuesday's loss could be particularly costly for Columbus, as starting goalie Pascal Leclaire was run into by two players late in the second period and had to be helped off the ice. Leclaire, who leads the NHL with eight shutouts, came away with a bruised neck and did not travel with the team to Phoenix. He's expected to miss at least two games.
Backup goalie Fredrik Norrena yielded a goal on the first shot he faced Tuesday, and stopped just 10 of 13 shots. Norrena, 0-4-1 with a 4.18 GAA since Jan. 5, is 0-1-1 with a 3.38 GAA lifetime against the Coyotes.
The Blue Jackets recalled 19-year-old Steve Mason from the Ontario Hockey League on Wednesday to back up Norrena. Mason went 22-6-3 with a 2.79 GAA, .914 save percentage and three shutouts in 31 OHL games.
Rick Nash scored his team-leading 27th and 28th goals Tuesday, including one with the Blue Jackets facing a 5-on-3 disadvantage - a franchise first. Nash has two goals and an assist in three games against the Coyotes this season, and 11 goals and 11 assists in 17 career games against them.
The Blue Jackets have the league's second-worst road record at 9-15-2 and have dropped eight of their last 12 away from Nationwide Arena.