Blues-Coyotes Preview

Recent results have cost the St. Louis Blues sole possession of

first place in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. They may find

comfort in knowing they’ve booked a chance to compete for a much

bigger prize.

The Phoenix Coyotes aren’t even close to being afforded the same

luxury.

The Blues should get a big boost with the return of center Alex

Steen as they attempt to regain the lead atop the NHL standings

against a desperate Coyotes team Sunday night at Jobing.com

Arena.

St. Louis (46-20-9) has already clinched its first playoff spot

since 2008-09, but is 1-2-2 after winning nine of 10. Those recent

struggles, which include being shut out twice, have left the Blues

and the New York Rangers tied with a league-leading 101 points.

The Blues struggled to pull away in the race for their first

Presidents’ Trophy since 1999-2000, getting blanked again in

Thursday’s 1-0 shootout defeat at Los Angeles. Still, St. Louis is

surely more concerned with eventually making a run at its first

Stanley Cup.

That could get easier with Steen’s return. The veteran center

had 13 goals, 11 assists and was plus-20 in 36 games before

suffering a concussion that’s kept him out since Dec. 27. He was

activated early Sunday and should face Phoenix.

The Coyotes (37-26-13) are still trying to assure themselves of

a chance to join the Blues in the playoffs, and a 4-5-4 record this

month has left their fate very much up in the air.

Phoenix is seventh in the Western Conference, one point ahead of

Los Angeles and San Jose and two in front of Colorado, which are

vying for the eighth and final playoff position.

“We know our situation,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We know where

we are, we know where we want to get to.”

The Coyotes failed to create some more separation from that pack

Saturday, losing 4-3 in a shootout to the Sharks.

“They’re playing playoff hockey right now like we are,”

defenseman Derek Morris said. “It was a tight game. It could have

gone either way. It was just a battle on every single shift.”

Some production from the power play could make a difference for

Phoenix. The unit has converted just 3 of 30 chances over the last

11 games, going 0 for 6 in the past two.

Another rough performance could be in store since St. Louis has

killed 62 of the last 64 power plays its faced over 19

contests.

Ray Whitney is providing some production with two goals and

eight assists during a seven-game point streak. The left wing has

four goals and two assists in his last 10 meetings with the Blues,

but five of those points came in a win on Nov. 13, 2010, and he has

just a goal in five matchups since.

The Blues have beaten the Coyotes in both meetings this season,

winning 4-1 at home Jan. 3 after a 3-2 victory in Phoenix on Dec.

23. These teams will meet for the fourth and final time at St.

Louis on April 6 in the penultimate game of the regular season.

T.J. Oshie had a goal in the most recent meeting with the

Coyotes, giving him five points in five games. He hasn’t been as

effective recently, getting two points in six games after

collecting eight in the prior eight.

His team-leading 50 points are a personal best, while his 18

goals match his career high from 2009-10.