Blues-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 22, 2011
The Phoenix Coyotes got a road-heavy portion of their schedule off to a great start. They'd like to begin producing similar results at home. Phoenix will try to match a season high with its third consecutive win Friday night, hosting a St. Louis Blues team looking to rebound from a rare regulation loss. Opening a stretch in which they play 10 of 13 outside the desert, the Coyotes (18-13-3) followed Tuesday's 2-1 win over Florida with a 4-3 victory at Carolina on Wednesday. Cal O'Reilly, Rostislav Klesla and Lauri Korpikoski scored after Phoenix went down 3-1 in the second period. "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." What isn't a good sign is the Coyotes having only seven home wins, tied for second-fewest among Western Conference teams. They've lost three of four at home this month as opponents have gone 8 for 16 on the power play. Phoenix's power-play unit is just 6 of 53 (11.3 percent) at Jobing.com Arena this season as the club has averaged 2.38 goals, compared to 2.78 on the road. Ray Whitney, though, hopes to help end those special-teams struggles after scoring a first-period power-play goal in each of the last two contests. He has six goals and 15 points in his last 13 games. Whitney had team highs of four goals and six points as Phoenix won three of four versus the Blues in 2010-11. This season's series begins with St. Louis coming off just its third regulation loss in 20 games since Ken Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne as coach Nov. 6. The Blues (19-10-4) fell behind 2-0 in the opening 5:13 of Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Colorado. They had been 5-0-1 in their previous six games. "Our attitude was not right to start the game," said Hitchcock, whose team failed to score first for a third straight game. "When you start as poorly as we do, that's not winning hockey. We got to figure it out." The same is true of the Blues' league-worst power play, converting 10.6 percent of their chances. That unit is even worse on the road at 5 for 58 (8.6 percent). "We just need to be better early and the power play needs to be something that gives us a spark," David Backes said Wednesday after scoring his 11th goal to tie T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen for the team lead. "A post here and there and shots are all rah rah, but at the end of the day its what's on the scoreboard and we didn't get the job done." The Blues, though, have been getting outstanding goaltending from Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Elliott is the league leader with a 1.52 goals-against average, while Halak is 5-1-4 with a 1.75 GAA since the coaching switch. Halak had never faced Phoenix before starting the last three meetings between the clubs, going 1-2-0 with a 3.03 GAA. Elliott has split two career starts versus the Coyotes. Jason LaBarbera, who made a season-high 34 saves Wednesday, could make a second straight start for Phoenix with No. 1 goaltender Mike Smith listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury suffered Tuesday. The Blues are among the league's worst with a 2.06 road scoring average.
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