Preview: Coyotes vs. Blue Jackets, 6:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona
GLENDALE, Ariz. — While the Columbus Blue Jackets appear to be limping into the All-Star break, the Arizona Coyotes are building up a head of steam.
The Coyotes have owned the NHL’s worst record nearly all season, but they’ve won their last two games, winning 5-2 at St. Louis on Saturday and beating the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime Monday on left wing Nick Cousins’ second goal of the game. It was Cousins’ first career two-goal game.
The Coyotes (12-28-9) have gained 10 of a possible 16 points in their last eight games. They’ve also won successive games for the first time since mid-November, helped in part by goaltender Antti Raanta going 3-1-3 in his last seven games.
“I still think the players have to expect to win every night, instead of hoping (to win),” Tocchet said. “I hate hoping. I want to expect to win.”
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 23, 2018
The Coyotes will be trying to win three consecutive games for only the second time all season. They swept the final three games on a road trip Nov. 16-20 by winning at Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
“It’s a little bit different to play behind this team right now,” Raanta said. “Everybody is dialed in. We need everybody to be in game mode, like we’ve been seeing the last few games. It’s been a good run.”
Columbus, which is clinging to a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, is struggling mightily on the power play.
Coach John Tortorella took the Blue Jackets to the Southwest desert early — three days before their Tuesday night game in Las Vegas — but the mini-vacation didn’t help them against the Golden Knights.
Columbus went 0-for-3 on the power play and allowed four consecutive goals during a 6-3 loss to Vegas that dropped their record to 26-19-3.
It’s a record that would be good enough to make the playoffs today, but Tortorella and his players must be wondering if the way they’re playing will be good enough over the remainder of the season.
The Blue Jackets are last in the league with a 13 percent success rate on the power play, converting only 18 of 138 opportunities. By comparison, the Stanley Cup-defending Pittsburgh Penguins have 46 power-play goals. Columbus is only 7 of 66 on road power play attempts, a 10.6 conversion rate.
If they could somehow get that straightened out, the Blue Jackets might significantly improve their playoff chances. Right now, they’re clinging to one of the two Eastern Conference wild-card berths, despite going 1-3 in their last four games, a stretch that includes a loss to conference also ran Buffalo.
“I just hope it’s a lesson for the guys in here,” team captain Nick Foligno said following the loss at Vegas, which dropped the Blue Jackets to 10-11-3 on the road. “It’s still halfway through the season, but I hope that was an embarrassment in a little way.”
“We’ll lick our wounds and get ready for Arizona,” Tortorella said.
Right wing Josh Anderson scored his team-leading 15th goal, but that wasn’t enough as goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky gave up five goals on 37 shots, including three goals in the second period.
Anderson scored the game’s only goal when the Blue Jackets beat Arizona 1-0 on Dec. 9 in Columbus, with Bobrovsky turning aside all 35 shots he faced.
Columbus will again be without center Brandon Dubinsky, who’d been skating with the team for a few days but did not make the trip to Arizona. He hasn’t played since mid-December because of a fractured orbital bone.