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Coyotes visit Canucks looking to end March struggles

by Brian Hunter
COYOTES (34-25-11) at CANUCKS (42-19-8)


Last 10:
Phoenix 4-4-2; Vancouver 4-4-2

Season Series:
Fourth and final meeting of the season. The Canucks blanked the Coyotes 5-0 behind 22 saves from Cory Schneider in the initial matchup on Nov. 25, while the last two have been decided via the shootout. Ryan Kesler lifted Vancouver to a 2-1 win on Feb. 13, while Ray Whitney got one back for Phoenix by the same score on Feb. 28.

Big Story: Neither team is currently playing its best hockey, though the consequences aren't nearly the same with Vancouver still running away with the Northwest Division and a top-two seed while Phoenix is suddenly back to fighting for its playoff life. Still, the Canucks have to be somewhat concerned by the slumps Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are in -- Henrik has gone eight games without registering a point, while Daniel has a solitary assist during the same span.

Team Scope:

In order for Phoenix to secure a third straight playoff berth, the Coyotes are going to have to figure out the month of March because they still have nine games left before the calendar flips again. Following a torrid 11-0-1 run in February that vaulted them to the top of the Pacific Division, the Coyotes dropped to 1-4-2 this month following Monday's 5-4 shootout loss to the visiting Predators. On the plus side, they did secure a valuable point by overcoming a pair of one-goal deficits and rallying from 4-2 down in the third on goals by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Raffi Torres.

"I give our guys full credit for coming back, digging in and finding a way to get a point," coach Dave Tippett said. "But we have to play tight hockey and not give away chances like we did tonight."

Canucks: With a 14-point lead in the division, there's nothing to worry about there, but Vancouver has watched St. Louis open up a sizable lead of its own in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and No. 1 seed in the West; plus, the Canucks just want to start playing better hockey as the postseason approaches. With two dates remaining on a seven-game homestand, they're just 2-3 and dropped a 4-1 decision Saturday to the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens. Kesler opened the scoring midway through the second, but the offense ended there.

"Any time your top players are not your best players, your top performers, obviously there's a level of concern," coach Alain Vigneault said. "I'm not sure if we're tired physically or mentally, but if that's the case what we can do is eliminate that excuse."

Who's Hot:
Torres has goals in three straight games for the Coyotes. … Kesler has goals in consecutive games for the Canucks, while Chris Higgins has 1 goal and 3 assists during a three-game points streak.

Injury Report: Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal (upper body) has missed the last two games. Defenseman David Schlemko (foot) and forward Kyle Chipchura (wrist) are on injured reserve. … Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) and forward Andrew Ebbett (collarbone) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Ekman-Larsson's effort Monday included two shots, two hits, two blocked shots and a plus-3 rating in a team-high 26:01 of ice time. … Zack Kassian has 1 goal, 1 assist and 17 penalty minutes in six games since the Canucks acquired him from the Sabres for Cody Hodgson.

Puck Drop:
Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris hasn't played since Feb. 11, missing time due to injury and a family illness that kept him away from the team. But he's back skating and looking forward to his return to game action.

"Great with the guys, terrible with the skates," Morris told the Arizona Republic about getting back on the ice for practice. "This is a fun group of guys. The guys we got out there are working, we've got a couple of nice young kids that skate a little quicker than the rest of us, and it's been great to get back out there skating."
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