Preview: Coyotes vs. Kings, 6:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona Plus
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The man who has the Arizona Coyotes playing like a playoff team — even though they won’t make the postseason — won’t be behind the bench Tuesday night.
First-year Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet is taking a leave of absence to deal with a family illness, so assistant coach John MacLean will coach them against the Los Angeles Kings, a team that is back in control of its playoff destiny.
“Family comes first,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a statement issued Monday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Toc (Tocchet) as he deals with his personal matter. It’s important that he takes the time to be there with his family.”
MacLean, who spent 19 NHL seasons as a player, coached the New Jersey Devils at the start of the 2010-11 season but was let go after the team went 9-22-2 in its first 33 games.
Chayka did not indicate how long Tocchet — who won the Stanley Cup the last two seasons as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach — would be away from the team. He coached them to a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night at Gila River Arena.
The Kings moved into third place in the Western Conference on Monday by also shutting out the Canucks, this time by 3-0 as goaltender Jonathan Quick turned aside all 28 shots he faced. Anze Kopitar scored his 28th goal, and Adrian Kempe assisted on Tyler Toffoli‘s 22nd goal and Tanner Pearson 13th. Toffoli also assisted on Pearson’s goal.
The Coyotes remain at the bottom of the standings with a 22-35-11 record, but they’ve turned it around in the second half of the season. They are 4-1-1 in their last six games, 10-3-2 in their past 15 and 13-7-6 since the start of the year after Sunday’s shutout of the Canucks. It was the first Arizona shutout for backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was acquired from the Kings a month ago and a trade for Tobias Rieder and has started four games in a row while Antti Raanta recovers from a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the game-winning goal Sunday at 15:07 of the second period, his 10th goal of the season. His 27 game-winning goals since he broke into the NHL in 2010-11 are the most among NHL defensemen during that time.
“I’d rather be battling for a playoff spot than scoring goals,” Ekman-Larsson said. “At the same time, it means I’m doing something good out there. I’ve been getting some good looks lately and it’s nice to see them go in.”
Kuemper had 27 saves in the shutout, bouncing back from a 5-2 loss at Colorado on Saturday.
“Every start, I feel more and more comfortable with the team,” said Kuemper, who was 10-1-3 with Los Angeles before the Kings traded him.
Every game is important right now for the Kings, who have won five of seven and eight of 12 despite being embarrassed 7-2 in a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at the Staples Center. Los Angeles is 1-0-1 against the Coyotes this season, losing 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 24 but beating them 6-0 on Feb. 3. The teams play against March 29 in Los Angeles.
“It was a good bounce-back game for us, and two points we really needed,” Toffoli said of the win over Vancouver. “It was huge. We focused on tonight (Monday) and now we’ve got to start worrying about tomorrow (Tuesday), and we’ll do that.”
Kings center Jeff Carter, who missed 55 games with an injured tendon in his leg, has four goals and two assists in eight games since returning on Feb. 24.
Kopitar leads the Kings in both goals (28) and points (75). Rookie Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes with 18 goals and 49 points.