NHL: Blues face Coyotes, aim to start ‘digging out’

The St. Louis Blues will continue playing catch-up in their quest for the postseason when they face the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night in Tempe, Ariz.

The Blues lost ground in the playoff race when they won just three times during a seven-game homestand that ended Tuesday. That struggle left them six points out of the final Western Conference playoff slot through Tuesday’s games.

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The predicament puts extra focus on Thursday’s matchup at Mullett Arena. The game will open the Blues’ three-game road trip leading into the NHL All-Star break.

“We have to go into Arizona and take care of business there and then focus on the next one after that,” Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. “There’s nothing more to it. We’re in a hole, and we got to start digging out. If we look too far ahead, we’re not gonna get anywhere.”

The rebuilding Coyotes have lost 12 of their last 14 games. But the Blues can’t take anything for granted after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres by 5-3 scores in their last two games.

In both losses, St. Louis failed to defend the center of its defensive zone in front of goaltender Jordan Binnington.

“We’re asking him to make saves that I don’t know if there’s any goalies in the league that can make,” Faulk said.

Blues defenseman Torey Krug said: “Our slot was just wide open; they could’ve just camped out there and the puck would end up on their stick.”

The Blues are allowing an average of 3.56 goals per game this season, eighth-worst in the NHL through Tuesday.

“I think there’s times that we chase too much instead of just keeping them on the outside and having a little composure, protecting that slot area and waiting for a broken play or blocked shot or anything like that,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve just got to have more patience there, and we really don’t.”

Krug returned Tuesday from a lower-body injury that had sidelined him since his last game on Dec. 23. Winger Vladimir Tarasenko returned from a broken hand that had shelved him since Dec. 31.

On the other hand, the Blues placed winger Pavel Buchnevich on injured reserve with an ankle injury that required minor surgery. And captain Ryan O’Reilly remained out with a foot injury.

This will be the Blues’ first game this season against the Coyotes, who are coming off of a 5-2 loss to visiting the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.

Like Berube, Arizona coach Andre Tourigny wants to see better defensive zone coverage from his team.

“I did not like our start; we were a little bit sloppy on our assignments defensively,” Tourigny said. “There was about [a minute] there in the second where we gave up two goals, and that broke the game a little bit.

“But we were able to crawl back, we had a lot of fight, and the guys never quit. I like the way we arrived in the third. We put pucks at the net, recovered loose pucks, put a lot of bodies at the net, and we played with a lot of passion.”

–Field Level Media

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