(Glendale, AZ) — Since the Minnesota Wild put their three leading
scorers together last week, the new top line of Eric Staal, Mikael
Granlund and Jason Zucker has piled up a remarkable 11 goals and 15
assists in three games.
For coach Bruce Boudreau, this line might be a keeper.
For Arizona, this line must be kept off the scoreboard if the
Coyotes — still last in the NHL, but improving — are to win for
the sixth time in eight games. The Coyotes play host to the
streaking Wild, winners of five in a row, at Gila River Arena on
Arizona beat the Wild 4-3 in overtime in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 8
in the only previous meeting between the Western Conference teams
this season, with the Coyotes (18-34-10) rallying from a 3-0
deficit. The Wild (36-20-7) has won seven of nine (7-1-1) since.
“They’re playing really well,” coach Rick Tocchet told the Arizona
Republic. “We caught them on an off night (Feb. 8) and I don’t
think we’re going to catch them on an off night Thursday. It’s a
solid club fighting for playoff position, the same thing we’re
going to be facing down the stretch here. It’s a very solid team
and a good test.”
The stretch drive that unofficially begins Thursday, with only five
weeks left in the NHL schedule, was on Boudreau’s mind as well
following an 8-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday in
which Staal (three goals, two assists) and Zucker (goal, four
assists) each enjoyed five-point nights.
“This is the time,” Boudreau said. “Our schedule gets a lot more
difficult (now). We played these guys (the Blues) the first game
after the trade deadline last year and lost 2-1 and then went on
the road for five games. That sort of started our bad month. We
didn’t want that to happen this time around.”
It’s certainly not happening now, with the Wild on their first
five-game winning streak of the season. The Zucker-Staal-Granlund
line pairing is further energizing what already was a hot team that
now finds itself closer to second place in the Central Division
than it does to falling out of third place in the division.
“We’re just trying to pressure and skate, and pressure (the
defensemen) when we can, get pucks to the net and when there’s time
to make plays, we’re trying to do that as well,” Zucker said after
the Blues game. “Right now, it just seems to be working.”
Staal is among the NHL’s top five scorers with 33 goals, seven in
his past four games, and 64 points in 63 games. Granlund, the right
wing, has 19 goals and 53 points and left wing Zucker has 26 goals
and 51 points. The line combined for 14 points Tuesday, with Zucker
getting two goals and two assists.
“It was just one of those nights,” Staal said. “The puck was
following us around. We were feeling it.”
Minnesota is 14-15-1 on the road but has win its last four such
contests. Arizona is 10-18-4 at Gila River Arena, where it has won
three of five on a seven-game homestand that ends Saturday night
against the Ottawa Senators.
Antti Raanta (13-15-6, 2.46 goals-against average), who has two
shutout wins in his last three starts and five wins in his last six
decisions, is expected to be back in net for Arizona. The newly
acquired Darcy Kuemper started and lost 3-1 to Vancouver on Sunday
in his Coyotes debut.
Devan Dubnyk (27-11-5, 2.57), a former Coyotes goalie, is expected
to start for Minnesota.