Coyotes-Maple Leafs Preview
The Arizona Coyotes are on the verge of their longest losing streak in 20 seasons after picking up where they left off before the break.
They aren’t likely to get much sympathy from the offensively challenged Toronto Maple Leafs, who are mired in a lengthy skid of their own.
Arizona tries to continue its success against Toronto as these struggling teams square off at Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.
The Coyotes (16-25-6) were outscored 24-9 in their final six games before All-Star weekend, and they opened the season’s second half with Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss at Philadelphia. Arizona, in the midst of eight consecutive road games, took a 2-0 lead 5:50 into the first period before getting outplayed down the stretch.
"It’s always nice when you come on the road a get a two goal lead," forward Martin Erat said after finishing with two points. "You have to know and learn how to play with it."
The Coyotes haven’t been handed eight consecutive defeats since a franchise record-tying 10-game skid Feb. 6-25, 1994, when the team was located in Winnipeg.
"There are some things in (Tuesday’s) game that you like about your team, some structural stuff, some compete stuff that was definitely much better," coach Dave Tippett said. "Still some turnovers, some poor penalties – our margin for error is slim, we have to take those out of our game. But certainly some things to build on and some things to correct. … We still have a ways to go."
So does Toronto (22-23-4), which has gone 3-14-1 since Dec. 18 for the NHL’s second-worst record over that span. The Maple Leafs have scored one or zero goals six times during a season-worst seven-game losing streak.
They saw their woes carry over in Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss at New Jersey. James van Riemsdyk scored his team-leading 21st goal midway through the third period, but Jonathan Bernier let in the equalizer with 2:50 to go in regulation.
"It’s been a tough stretch for us, there’s no hiding that," van Riemsdyk said.
Bernier finished with 22 saves, dropping 1-6-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average in 2015. He’s compiled a 1.34 GAA in winning each of his three starts against the Coyotes.
Arizona took this season’s first matchup against Toronto 3-2 on Nov. 4 as Mike Smith stopped 28 shots opposite James Reimer. The Coyotes have won seven of nine in the series, including three of four on the road.
Smith is 4-1-2 with a 2.35 GAA against the Leafs, but he owns the league’s highest GAA at 3.49. With an NHL-worst 20 losses, Smith is already one away from matching last season’s total recorded in 62 games.
Toronto will again have to get by without captain Dion Phaneuf, who’s being listed as week to week due to an upper-body injury. The Leafs have gone 5-10-4 without their standout defenseman since he joined the team in January 2010.
Phil Kessel leads the team with 44 points despite notching one in the last seven games.
Toronto is surely looking forward to a quick stop back home after playing 13 of its last 16 in opposing arenas. The Leafs are averaging 3.5 goals on their own ice compared to 2.2 on the road.
Antoine Vermette has a team-leading 31 points for Arizona, only seven of which have come in the last 15 road games. The veteran center is set to appear in his 441st consecutive game and 800th of his career.