The Arizona Coyotes are on the brink of elimination from playoff contention following Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Gila River Arena.
The Coyotes can’t hope to catch the St. Louis Blues without a win and Blues loss for starters on Wednesday in the home finale at Gila River Arena. Any standings point gained by St. Louis leaves the Coyotes with no shot, with the Blues controlling the top playoff tiebreaker of more regulation and overtime wins.
Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun scored goals for the Coyotes, who led twice by a goal. But Arizona (22-25-6) lost ground to the Blues, who won on Monday, and trail them 55 to 50 points in the standings, with the Coyotes down to three games left to play.
The Coyotes got a little good news with the bad on Monday. Playmaking forward Conor Garland returned to the lineup from injury and was back to his old self as scoring threat and agitator/opposing team target.
Garland said he thought he surprised some people by coming back from a lower body injury so quickly. He missed six games.
“I mean, probably after the first period I felt back to normal. In the first, I was kind of trying to read the play and not really cost us or make a bad read defensively,” Garland said. “So I kind of just tried to get back to my details and then kind of got my legs in the second, felt good after that.”
The Coyotes were dealt a blow even before the game started. They lost center Nick Schmaltz to an upper-body injury in pregame warmups when Schmaltz, head coach Rick Tocchet said, was struck in the head by a puck that caromed off the goal bar.
Schmaltz was a late scratch after being helped off the ice. He’s to be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
“That hurts. Obviously it’s very frightening going through that and seeing him laying there. It’s a tough balance 15 minutes before puck drop, but we just had to go out there and do our best to win a hockey game and we didn’t.”
Schmaltz hadn’t missed a game this season, playing the first 52.
“We have a tough time scoring as it is. Nick’s a guy that drives offense for us,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said.
The Coyotes scored first, with Lawson Crouse feeding Dvorak with a backhand pass toward the net and Dvorak using a backhand of his own to score his 15th goal of the season.
The Kings responded 35 seconds later with 2:15 to play in the first period, Trevor Moore scoring off a faceoff near the Coyotes’ net.
The Coyotes started the second period on a power play and cashed in quickly. Chychrun had his head up for a no-look pass from Garland, who faked a shot, and Chychrun fired in a wrist shot that hit the post and went into the net.
But the Kings answered with an Anze Kopitar goal, then took their first lead with a power play goal from Alex Iafallo. Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper couldn’t control Drew Doughty’s shot, and the rebound resulted in Iafallo scoring to make it 3-2 with 6:20 left in the second period.
Kuemper was solid early, robbing Sean Walker of almost a sure goal and later turning away Moore’s breakaway, both in the first period.
The Kings had to make a change at goalie to start the third period, turning to Cal Petersen after Jonathan Quick exited with an upper body-injury. The Coyotes pressured Petersen and the Kings with 15 shots on goal in the third but could not find an equalizer to force overtime.
The Coyotes had an extra attacker on the ice with Kuemper pulled in the closing minutes, but their shots were stopped or blocked or the puck cleared away by the Kings.
Arizona had nine more shots on goal then L.A. for the game.
This has been a season to remember for Chychrun. Tocchet said Chychrun’s snap wrist shot is “a gift that he has.”
Tocchet was asked why defenseman Jordan Oesterle, a healthy scratch in the previous 11 games who got in the lineup with the injury to Schmaltz and centered the fourth line, hasn’t had an opportunity to play. Oesterle, 28, could very well be down to his last three games as a Coyote with him able to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
The Coyotes host the Kings in the eighth and final meeting of this season between the the teams on Wednesday night. It’s the home finale for the Coyotes on Cinco de Mayo, and it’s Fan Appreciation Night at Gila River Arena. Some details here on what’s planned for the night include fan giveaways and entertainment.