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Coyotes continue tough stretch at St. Louis

by Tal Pinchevsky
COYOTES (21-15-1) at BLUES (19-15-5)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-5-1; St. Louis 5-3-2.

Season Series: This is the second of four games between these teams, who will play each other in St. Louis on the second-to-last day of the NHL season on April 6. In their first meeting on Dec. 23, Jason Arnott scored the eventual winner in a 3-2 Blues' win in Phoenix.

Big Story: Both these teams have been in the Western Conference playoff picture for much of the season, but recent losing skids have hurt their respective marches toward the postseason. The Coyotes recently snapped a season-long four-game losing skid while the Blues have lost their last three games, also a season-long streak.
Team Scope:

Coyotes: After going 8-4-1 in November, Phoenix closed out December with a disappointing 6-9-1 record. The Coyotes will certainly be hoping to return to their winning ways in January, which they will start by playing five of their first six games on the road. After losing three consecutive games from Dec. 26-29, each by only a single goal, Phoenix looked to end the skid on New Year's Eve in Minnesota.

Against the Wild on Saturday, Radim Vrbata snapped a 1-1 tie with two third-period goals scored 2:01 apart to give the Coyotes a lead they would not relinquish. Matt Cullen's penalty shot goal cut the Phoenix lead to 3-2 but Ray Whitney's empty-netter sealed the Coyotes win. In his first start of the season, Curtis McElhinney stopped 28 Minnesota shots to secure the win.

Blues: The Blues have been among the League's hottest teams from the moment Ken Hitchcock was named the team's coach Nov. 6. The Blues started 8-1-2 under Hitchcock, closing out a 9-2-2 November that salvaged their season following a mediocre October. After catapulting into the Western Conference playoff picture, the Blues came back to earth a little during the holidays by closing out 2011 with three consecutive losses, including two at the hands of the Red Wings.

Following a 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville on Friday, the Blues celebrated New Year's Eve in Detroit by facing off against the Red Wings for the second time in four days. After falling 3-2 to the Wings on Tuesday, the Blues headed into Detroit for a rematch with their Central Division rival. Both teams fired 10 shots in a hard-fought scoreless first period but things fell apart for the Blues in the second period. It was in the middle period that the Wings fired 17 shots, beating Brian Elliott three times. The Blues controlled play in the third, outshooting Detroit 11-4. But Jimmy Howard's 31 saves secured the 3-0 Red Wings win.

Who's Hot: For the Coyotes, Whitney has three points in his last three games and Mikkel Boedker has three points in his last four games. … With three goals in their last three games, the Blues have struggled offensively, but Arnott has nine points in his last 11 games while David Perron and Kevin Shattenkirk each have three points in their last four games.

Injury Report: For Phoenix, Kurt Sauer (post-concussion syndrome), Mike Smith (groin), Boyd Gordon (lower body), and Martin Hanzal (face) are all on IR. … St. Louis' roster has a number of holes at the moment. Ian Cole was just suspended for three games and Alex Steen is doubtful with a concussion while Andy McDonald (concussion), Kent Huskins (ankle), Kris Russell (groin), and Ryan Reaves (hip) are on IR.

Stat Pack: The Blues have boasted among the League's best defenses under Hitchcock while ranking last in power-play efficiency. But the team's season may ultimately be undone by its performance in the shootout. The Blues are 0-5 in the shootout this season and have scored just once in 17 shootout attempts, with T.J. Oshie registering St. Louis' lone shootout marker.

Puck Drop: Vrbata's two goals against Minnesota gave him 18 for the season, just two short of the 20 Shane Doan scored last season to lead the team. He’s currently on pace for 38 goals, which would be the most in a season for the Coyotes since Keith Tkachuk notched 40 in the 1997-98 campaign.
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