Coyotes-Blues Preview

BY foxsports • April 17, 2013

No matter how bleak the playoff chances for the Phoenix Coyotes, they insist they aren't giving up with six games left.

Phoenix looks to find its scoring touch and give a boost to its postseason hopes Thursday night when it visits a St. Louis Blues team that has won seven of nine.

Possibly the biggest detriment to the Coyotes' playoff chances has been their inconsistency. A 3-0 loss to St. Louis on March 14 was the first of three straight shutouts to begin a seven-game losing streak.

They responded with a 4-0-1 stretch, totaling 20 goals, but have since lost three of four while scoring just five times.

"There's a group of players that are giving all-in effort," coach Dave Tippett said. "What frustrates me is when you have situations when you don't think we're playing as well as we can. We don't have enough players impacting the outcome of the game in a positive way. We've got too many players that are just taking up a spot right now."

Tippett's team is coming off a 4-0 loss to San Jose on Monday. It was the eighth time the Coyotes (18-17-7) have failed to score a goal, second-most in the league to Nashville (nine).

That happened just six times last season - in nearly twice as many games - before Phoenix made a run to the Western Conference finals. The Coyotes currently stand in 11th in the West and time is running out in its battle with Detroit, Columbus and Dallas for the final playoff spot.

"If you're going to give up then I don't want you on my team," captain Shane Doan said. "If we think that's an issue then we've got even bigger issues. There's no way that happens."

Another issue is the health of goaltender Mike Smith, who suffered a lower-body injury in practice Sunday and sat out Monday as Jason LaBarbera made 37 saves.

It's unclear if Smith will return for this contest, but he's given up all nine of the Blues' goals in these teams' two matchups this season as the Coyotes lost both. St. Louis holds a 21-10 scoring advantage while winning five of the last six meetings.

The Blues have scored only six non-shootout goals over their last six games, but Brian Elliott has seemed to regain the form that made him an All-Star last season.

Elliott is 6-1-0 with a 1.03 goals-against average and three shutouts this month, making 21 saves in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win over Vancouver. Elliott, who has a 2.22 GAA in five career starts versus Phoenix, has played a key role in the team's quest to solidify a playoff spot.

The latest victory for St. Louis (24-16-2), which stands seventh in the West, gave coach Ken Hitchcock 600 for his career.

"It's basically because I'm old," the 61-year-old Hitchcock said.

The Blues now face a pair of teams fighting for their playoff lives, with Dallas visiting Friday.

"We've got to concentrate on every game as it comes and forget about the last one," captain David Backes said. "We've got a tough two opponents coming back-to-back Thursday and Friday and I think we'll like where we are if we put in efforts like we did (Tuesday)."

Blues leading scorer Chris Stewart has only two points in his last 12 games but has three goals and four assists versus the Coyotes this season.

Phoenix has been shut out five times while dropping nine of 11 on the road.

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