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Hanzal big key to Coyotes' offense

Elliott, Blues in lockdown mode

by Jerry Brown / Correspondent

BLUES (34-17-9) at COYOTES (27-24-6) 

TV: 9 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-A, NHL.TV 

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal was the only player not on the ice for the morning skate Saturday, questions immediately arose about his availability for the game against the St. Louis Blues.

But Hanzal merely opted out of an optional skate and he will be ready when Arizona looks to complete a three-game homestand sweep, against the red-hot Blues.

The streaky and oft-injured center has four goals and eight points in his past five games, and teamed with wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair to produce nine points in a 6-3 win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

But Hanzal has missed 11 games and been less than 100 percent for many others, and his presence is a key for the Coyotes in many areas of the game. He is the team's best faceoff man, best net presence on the power play, a top penalty killer and top defensive stopper against top opposing centers.

 "When he's up and running, he can have a big impact on the game for us," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said of Hanzal, who had 18 points in his first 17 games and was poised to have a career year before being hit by the injury bug that has plagued him his entire career. "He's a force and we don't have another player like him, so when he's playing at the top of his game we benefit in a lot of areas."

Against the Stars, Hanzal scored on a power-play rebound in front, provided a screen for Michael Stone's goal and assisted on Domi's first two goals in more than a month.

Hanzal has 10 goals and 32 points in 44 games this season.

The game matches a team on a hot scoring streak against a team that has been ultra-stingy defensively.

The Coyotes have won three of the past four games and have scored 12 goals in back-to-back games for the first time in more than a decade (Dec. 3-5, 2005).

The Blues have won four in a row, keyed by their defense. Over the past eight games, St. Louis is 6-1-1 and has allowed 11 non-shootout goals in that span.

Goalie Brian Elliott has allowed three goals in the past three games and made 34 saves in a 2-1 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings. In his past six starts, Elliott is 5-0-1 with a 1.26 goals-against average and a .961 save-percentage.

Here are the projected lineups:

Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes  
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko  
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer  
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk  
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko  
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo

Brian Elliott 
Jordan Binnington  

Injured: Alex Pietrangelo (knee), Jake Allen (knee), Steve Ott (hamstring) 

Scratched: Magnus Paajarvi, Peter Harrold

Max Domi - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair  
Kyle Chipchura - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker  
Jordan Martinook - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan  
Tobias Rieder - Tyler Gaudet - Viktor Tikhonov
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy  
Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek  
Kevin Connauton - Michael Stone 

Louis Domingue  
Niklas Treutle

Injured: Boyd Gordon (upper body), Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), Anders Lindback (Achilles' surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone). 

Scratched: Jarred Tinordi, Nicklas Grossmann

Status report: Allen is skating and close to returning, but St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said Jordan Binnington will remain the backup with Elliott making his 17th straight start.

Who's hot: Ekman-Larsson has 11 points (eight assists) in the past seven games and a career-high 45 points after 57 games. … Duclair has seven points in the past five games. … all three of Schwartz's goals this season have come in the past four games. … Fabbri has three goals in the past four games.

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