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Preview: St. Louis Blues vs. Arizona Coyotes

Blues forward Alex Steen (20) fights off the checking of Arizona’s Alex Galchenyuk (17) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23). (Photo courtesy: Jeff Curry, USA Today Sports)

ST. LOUIS, MO – The St. Louis Blues (36-25-7) will be short-staffed at home on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes (34-30-5) at Enterprise Center. The Blues, sans Vladimir Tarasenko, look to move within two points of the second place Nashville Predators in the Central division, while the Coyotes can take the second wild card spot with a win or overtime loss.

St. Louis returns home from California after losing in OT to San Jose on Saturday, while Arizona will play their second game in the Midwest in as many days after last night’s 7-1 loss against the Blackhawks. The Blues and Coyotes will meet for the third and final time this season, splitting both games at the Gila River Arena earlier this season.

LATE-SEASON INJURIES

The Blues will be without leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko for at least four more games. His dynamic with Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn has helped propel St. Louis into playoff contention this season. “It’s unfortunate for the team and for him, for sure”, head coach Craig Berube told KSDK News. “Nothing you can do about it… We just have to keep plugging away”. Forward Pat Maroon, who scored on Saturday’s overtime loss to the Sharks, also suffered a knee injury during practice yesterday, but coach Berube says he should skate against Arizona. Combined with David Perron, whose timetable is still undetermined, and Carl Gunnarsson, the injuries are dealing a major blow to the Blues’ late playoff push.

On the other side, the Coyotes have been dealing with critical player injuries as well. Derek Stepan, who has 19 assists and 32 points, recently sustained a knee injury on March 1 and will miss the remainder of the regular season. “We haven’t had very much luck with these knee injuries,” coach Rick Tocchet said on Doug & Wolf. “With [Stepan], he’s a big part of our team… He solidifies that center position, he shuts down the other team’s best line. Great locker room guy.” Centerman Nick Schmaltz and backup goaltender Antti Raanta are also expected to miss the rest of the 2018-19 season.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

With injuries on both sides, the Blues and Coyotes will look to their youth to push their teams into playoff contention. For the Blues, rookie forwards Robert Thomas and Mackenzie MacEachern have combined for 30 points and over twenty minutes of average ice time on the bottom lines for St. Louis in their freshman seasons. In addition, Jordan Binnington has made headlines all over the league for the last two months, posting an impressive 16-3-1 record and a .929 save percentage.

In Arizona, the ‘Yotes look to their next superstar Clayton Keller to rebuild the franchise. Keller leads the team with 31 assists and 44 points. The 20-year-old Chesterfield, MO native was drafted 7th overall in the 2016 draft and is playing in just his second full-time season, already posting 111 points in 153 career games. Jakob Chychrun, drafted 16th the same year, has also seen significant improvement in his game, putting up 19 points as a defenseman and averaging over 20 minutes of ice time this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Blues have been slowly improving their power play numbers down the home stretch; in their last ten games their powerplay sits at 31% (9 for 29), towards the top in the standings. Arizona’s powerplay in their last ten sits at a morose 11% (4 for 37); however, their penalty kill has been a machine all season, with an 85.1% success rate (only second behind Tampa Bay) and fourteen shorthanded goals.

PLAYOFF FRENZY

The Western Conference has only continued to heat up, as four teams are all within three points of one another for both wild card spots. The Dallas Stars currently hold the no. 1 spot with 75 points and the Minnesota Wild holds no. 2 with 74. Right behind them are Colorado and Arizona with 72 and 73 points, respectively. The Coyotes have a game in hand on the Minnesota, who also played last night, and have 12 games left in the season. While the top three teams in the Pacific have been well-established, the Central Division currently holds five of the eight playoff spots with Dallas only four points behind St. Louis for third.

Meanwhile, the wild card race in the East sees Pittsburgh, Carolina, Columbus, and Montreal sprinting to the finish, just four points apart from each other (CAR 83, PIT 83, CBJ 79, MTL 79). Carolina defeated Colorado 3-0 last night, Columbus fell to the Islanders 2-0 and faces a red-hot Boston team tonight, Montreal faces off at home against the Red Wings, and Pittsburgh will revive one of the greatest rivalries in sports against Washington. All four teams have 13 games remaining,

BLUES’ FINAL RUN – TOO EASY…?

The St. Louis Blues had their toughest month of the season in February and one of the hardest the franchise has seen in years, based on their opposition: in February, the Blues played 14 games in 28 days and posted an NHL season-best 12-1-1. Ten of those matchups came from current playoff teams and seven against central division rivals (50%, for those counting at home). In the final 14-game stretch of this season, the Blues play against only three teams in playoff contention and two central division teams.

For the Blues’ postseason chances, things look optimistic; however, with recent injuries and the Blues’ current March record at 2-2-1, St. Louis must be wary of the “spoiler” games and play hard until the very end, regardless of injuries or level of competition heading into the postseason.

The Blues will face off against the Coyotes at 8pm ET at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Broadcasts of both sides of the game are provided by:

STL – FSMW, KMOX 1120, NHL.tv

ARI – FSAZ, KMVP 98.7, NHL.tv

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ST. LOUIS

FORWARDS:

10 Schenn – 90 O’Reilly – 18 Thomas

7 Maroon – 21 Bozak – 17 Schwartz

15 Fabbri – 70 Sundqvist – 12 Sanford

62 MacEachern – 49 Barbashev – 9 Blais

DEFENSE:

27 Pietrangelo – 6 Edmundson

55 Parayko – 19 Bouwmeester

41 Bortuzzo – 29 Dunn

IN GOAL:

50 Binnington

ARIZONA

FORWARDS:

14 Panik – 18 Dvorak – 9 Keller

40 Grabner – 15 – Richardson – 13 Hinostroza

17 Galchenyuk – 25 Cousins – 36 Fischer

67 Crouse – 29 Kempe – 45 Archibald

DEFENSE:

4 Hjalmarsson – 23 Ekman-Larsson

33 Goligoski – 6 Chychrun

55 Demers – 82 Oesterle

IN GOAL:

35 Kuemper

For more local Blues stories, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!

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