Coyotes-Penguins Preview

BY foxsports • February 29, 2016

Evgeni Malkin is back in the fold as the Pittsburgh Penguins try to fend off other Eastern Conference wild-card contenders and move into one of the Metropolitan Division's automatic postseason spots.

The Arizona Coyotes have their own playoff hopes, but they're not doing themselves any favors during their worst stretch of the season.

Pittsburgh looks to sweep its brief homestand by sending the fading Coyotes to a sixth straight defeat Monday night.

The Penguins (31-21-8) went a respectable 5-4-1 while Malkin sat out with an upper-body injury and have a three-point edge with a game in hand on Philadelphia for the East's last playoff spot. They also have a shot to catch the third-place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan, especially considering their 9-2-3 record in the last 14 games Malkin has played after Saturday's 4-1 win over Winnipeg in his return.

''He's obviously one of the best players in the league, so he's going to open up a lot of room,'' said forward Carl Hagelin, who scored twice. ''When he's on his game, the other team has to pay so much attention to him.''

Malkin ranks among the league leaders with 23 power-play points and is hoping to help the Penguins snap their funk with the man advantage. They've failed on all 17 power-play chances over their last nine games and went 1 for 24 with Malkin out.

Pittsburgh missed on their only chance Saturday, but coach Mike Sullivan was impressed with how Malkin looked following his layoff even though he didn't have a point. Sullivan kept Malkin out of practice Sunday so he could rest before the end of the two-game homestand.

''(Malkin) I thought was really strong,'' Sullivan said. ''I think his conditioning will only get better as he gets his timing back and gets back into game mode.''

Center Nick Bonino also returned after missing the previous 17 for the Penguins, who lost the first meeting with Arizona 2-1 on Oct. 10.

The Coyotes (27-29-6), though, have dropped eight points back of Colorado for the West's last playoff spot while losing five straight in regulation. They're finishing a five-game road trip with this contest after not scoring more than two goals in any of the previous four.

Brad Richardson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in Saturday's 4-2 loss to Philadelphia, during which it allowed three goals in the first period.

"We put a lot of good work into this game and we played in the offensive zone a ton," coach Dave Tippett said. "... We can't get many breaks right now and we can't capitalize on our chances.

"Games are close and you're not as good a team when you have to chase the game."

The Coyotes acquired veteran forward Alex Tanguay along with defensive prospect Kyle Wood and forward prospect Conner Bleackleyfrom the Avalanche for forward Mikkel Boedker on Monday. Boedker, a pending unrestricted free agent, has 13 goals and 26 assists, while Tanguay has recorded four goals and 18 assists.

Arizona also claimed forward Jiri Sekac off waivers from Chicago on Saturday as it tries to boost its offense and make a push for the playoffs. He could make his debut in this contest for a Coyotes team that has gone 1 for 17 on the power play during its skid.

"Instead of finding ways to win hockey games we're finding ways to lose right now," Ekman-Larsson said. "We just have to keep working hard. We need to find points right now… It's frustrating for sure... We have been trying a lot but it's not enough. We have to find ways to win hockey games."

Rookie Louis Domingue has made 10 straight starts in net but has a 3.61 goals-against average during the losing streak.

Marc-Andre Fleury has a 2.12 GAA in nine career starts against the Coyotes, though it's unclear if he'll get the nod with Pittsburgh playing the following night at NHL-leading Washington.

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