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Coyotes to honor Tkachuk prior to faceoff with Blues

by Brian Hunter
BLUES (19-10-4) at COYOTES (18-13-3)


Last 10:
St. Louis 6-2-2; Phoenix 5-5-0

Season Series:
First of four meetings. The Coyotes took three of the four games on the 2010-11 slate and were led by Ray Whitney's 4 goals, including a hat trick in their 5-3 win on Nov. 13, 2010. Whitney tied a career high that night with 5 points.

Big Story:
It's a festive time of year, and in a special ceremony prior to the game Phoenix will celebrate the career of power forward Keith Tkachuk by inducting him into its Ring of Honor. Tkachuk, who retired following the 2009-10 season and was recently inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, scored 179 goals in 332 games over parts of five seasons with the Coyotes. Of course, he was also a prominent member of the Blues franchise, scoring 208 goals in 543 games over parts of nine seasons and two stints there.

Team Scope:

Blues: For only the third time in regulation and the seventh overall, St. Louis lost a game under Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday, falling 3-2 in Colorado. It dropped the Blues to 13-3-4 since the veteran coach took over behind the bench on Nov. 6. Also suffering a rare defeat was goalie Brian Elliott, only his third in 16 decisions. The visitors got second-period goals from David Backes and Chris Stewart, but ex-Blue Jay McClement -- part of the deal last season that netted Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk -- came up with the winner in the latter stages of the second.

"We just need to be better early and the power play needs to be something that gives us a spark," Backes said. "A post here and there and shots are all rah rah, but at the end of the day it's what's on the scoreboard and we didn't get the job done."

Two wins in a row following a heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Rangers have allowed Phoenix to pull into a three-way tie for first place in the Pacific Division with Dallas and San Jose. All three teams are in action Friday before the NHL goes dark for Christmas Eve and Christmas. The Coyotes swept a brief road trip against Southeast foes, earning one-goal victories against Florida and Carolina. A third-period comeback was required to get past the Hurricanes, as Korpikoski set up Rostislav Klesla's game-tying goal and then scored with 9:12 left for a 4-3 win.

"We had the mindset that if we would come out and play well then we could get the four points," coach Dave Tippett said. "Even though we didn't play as well as we liked all the time, we still got the four points and that's a good sign."

Who's Hot:
Backes has 1 goal and 3 assists during a three-game points streak for the Blues. … Whitney has consecutive games with a goal and an assist for the Coyotes. Korpikoski has 3 goals in his last four games.

Injury Report: St. Louis defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and forwards B.J. Crombeen (scapula), Andy McDonald (concussion) and Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) are on injured reserve. … Phoenix goalie Mike Smith (groin) is day-to-day. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin (lower body) is on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Buoyed by strong play from Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, the Blues' team goals-against average of 2.06 ranks second in the League, trailing only the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins at 1.94. … Klesla snapped a 41-game goal drought dating back to March 1, when he scored in his debut with the Coyotes following a deadline deal from the Blue Jackets.

Puck Drop:
Jason LaBarbera was perfect in relief of an injured Smith in the third period at Florida -- including stopping a penalty shot in the final minute -- and made 34 saves to beat Carolina. He figures to once again be between the pipes with Justin Pogge, recalled from Portland of the AHL, serving as his backup.

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