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Coyotes after elusive win against Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

COYOTES (18-9-5) at CANADIENS (20-12-3)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-5-1; Montreal 6-3-1.

Season series: The Montreal Canadiens and Phoenix Coyotes have not met since Nov. 10, 2011, and this will be Phoenix’s first visit to Montreal since Oct. 25, 2010. The Canadiens have not lost to the Coyotes since Dec. 9, 1998, with 10 wins and three ties since that date.

Big story: Both the Canadiens and Coyotes have hit a bit of a rough patch since getting off to hot starts to the season. The Coyotes were 14-4-3 on Nov. 16 and sitting third in the Pacific Division standings, three points behind the division leaders at the time, the Anaheim Ducks. Since then, the Coyotes have gone 4-5-2 and are fifth in the division, 10 points behind Anaheim.

The Canadiens’ struggles have been more recent, losing three of their past four games while scoring three goals. However, it could be argued that Montreal’s play slipped before this slump, with wins against the New Jersey Devils (twice), the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders coming in spite of being outplayed for a significant portion of each of those games.

Team scope:

Coyotes: In their past 11 games where the Coyotes are playing under .500, they have allowed three goals or more seven times. That is traditionally not the hallmark of a Dave Tippett-coached team. Phoenix was fourth in the NHL in goals scored per game at 3.12 entering Monday, but 25th in the League in goals against at 3.06.

It’s a strange reversal of roles in the desert.

The latest game where the Coyotes allowed three goals came Saturday in a 3-1 loss at home to the Carolina Hurricanes, but goaltender Mike Smith told the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan that he came out of that 30-save performance feeling good about himself.

“You’d think I was crazy if I told you what happened, but I felt the most comfortable about my game after this past game,” Smith said. “Obviously disappointing to lose, but I think I was the happiest I’ve been coming out of a loss in a long time just because I felt so much more comfortable on the ice. It’s definitely a stepping stone in the right direction.”

Canadiens: Smith may enjoy facing the Canadiens because their offense has gone completely dry in the past couple of weeks.

Montreal has been outshot in six of its past eight games and has scored 14 goals in that span. A big problem is a power play being anything but, snapping an 0-for-16 drought over a seven-game stretch when Alex Galchenyuk scored Montreal’s lone goal in the third period of a 2-1 loss at home to the Florida Panthers on Sunday.

The Canadiens have scored 86 goals, but 26 have come on the power play (30.2 percent). So when the power play goes cold, the team is likely to follow.

When asked Sunday what was wrong with the power play, Galchenyuk had a very simple analysis.

“We’re not scoring goals,” he said.

That will need to change if the Canadiens want to end their current slide. The return of forward Rene Bourque on Tuesday could help. Bourque had been out since Dec. 2 due to an upper-body injury.

Who’s hot: For the Coyotes, Montreal native and former Canadien Mike Ribeiro has nine points in seven games, and forwards Rob Kilnkhammer and Mikkel Boedker each had two goals in a 6-3 win against the Islanders on Thursday … For the Canadiens, Galchenyuk has three goals in five games.

Injury report: The Coyotes are without captain Shane Doan (illness), who may join the team during this four-game road-trip. Left wing Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) is on the trip but the date of his return is uncertain … Canadiens defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder) is out long term.

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