Coyotes open crucial road trip vs. league-leading Capitals
With the trade deadline looming a week away, the Arizona Coyotes open a crucial five-game road trip on Monday night against the best team in the NHL.
The Coyotes (27-25-6) open a five-game road trip in 10th place in the Western Conference, five points behind Nashville for what would be the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference. The taxing eight-day trip matching them against three of the Eastern Conference’s top four teams over the next four days — Washington on Monday, fifth-place Tampa Bay on Tuesday, second-place Florida on Thursday — before finishing off at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
"Great test for us," coach Dave Tippett said. "We’re going to have to play hard, stingy road hockey, and we expect to get points."
Monday’s game vs. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona, starting at 4:30 p.m.
The Coyotes’ challenge could become even greater due to the uncertain status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who leads the team in points (a career-high 45), assists (28), power-play goals (11) and time on ice (24:48 minutes per game). He suffered a lower-body injury just 42 seconds into Saturday’s 6-4 loss to St. Louis.
"It’s tough," captain Shane Doan said. "He’s our best player and he does so much for us in every situation."
Tippett described the injury as "day to day. Hopefully it’s not too serious. He might play on Monday."
While general manager Don Maloney has insisted the Coyotes won’t engage in a major sell-off as they did a year ago, when they languished at the bottom of the Western Conference, the next four games could go a long way in determining whether they’ll attempt to add talent for a playoff push over the season’s final six weeks. Maloney also emphasized that no matter what happens on the road trips, the Coyotes are not going to part with any of their talented young prospects or diminish the playing time for the young players already on the roster.
The Coyotes will play 15 of their final 24 games away from Gila River Arena. They are 11-13-2 on the road this season.
The Coyotes have picked up the offense of late, scoring 16 goals in their last three games, but they’ve managed just eight goals in their past five road games. They’ve lost their last three on the road by a combined score of 14-5.
The Coyotes won the last time they played in Washington, 6-5 in November 2014.
Ovechkin has scored nine goals in his last seven games for the Capitals (43-10-4), who have won four in a row on home ice and are 16-1-1 at home over their last 18. He’s got a league-leading 38 goals, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov has 43 assists, a team-leading 60 points and a league-leading plus-minus rating of plus-30.
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby has the league’s best record (37-6-3), a 2.17 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.