On pace for their first playoff appearance in eight seasons, the Arizona Coyotes will end a 10-day break when they travel to Anaheim on Wednesday night to face the Ducks.
Arizona hasn’t played since a 7-3 loss at Edmonton on Jan. 18 before heading into its bye week and the All-Star break.
Rick Tocchet’s squad, who last made the playoffs in 2012 when they were known as the Phoenix Coyotes, entered Tuesday’s action in a four-way tie for second place with Edmonton, Calgary and Vegas, three points behind first-place Vancouver and holding the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The game with the Ducks — who are in seventh place in the Pacific, two points ahead of Los Angeles — is the front end of a back-to-back that includes a Thursday night home date with the cellar-dwelling Kings. Arizona then hosts Chicago on Saturday to complete a key stretch of three games in four nights and kick off a busy month of February that features 14 games.
“It’s so tight in the Pacific,” defenseman Jason Demers said. “Every game against the Pacific is going to be a playoff game. These are the things we play for. The next two games can’t come soon enough.”
Demers said the break, which included eight days off for the team, was good both physically and mentally for the Coyotes, who won just one of their final six games (1-4-1) before the layoff.
“I think the eight days were good to get a little bit healthy, get out minds right,” Demers said. “We kind of didn’t have a great end before the break. Now it’s where guys earn their keep and earn their paycheck. This is the best time of the year aside from the playoffs.”
Forward Christian Dvorak, who is tied for second on the team with 13 goals and leads the team in plus/minus (plus-7), said the Coyotes got away from their gritty defensive approach before the break.
“Just get back to our identity,” Dvorak said when asked what his team must do to snap its playoff drought. “I think we kind of strayed away from that the past couple of weeks or so. We’ve got to get back to our identity. It’s defend first, be hard on the puck and go from there. If we do that, I think we have a real good chance to make the playoffs.”
Anaheim ended a nine-day break on Monday with a 4-2 loss at San Jose. The Ducks fell behind 2-0 in the first 4:35 and trailed 4-1 early in the third period before Nick Ritchie, playing for the first time since after missing 19 games with a MCL sprain, scored on the power play with just 1:53 remaining.
“It was a bad stretch there at the start,” Ritchie said. “Not really any excuse. I know we had the long break, but so did they, and they come out and jumped on us.
“There’s a lot of things we need to work on. We just weren’t sharp tonight. We weren’t making plays. We were a little slow. We couldn’t get the puck out of our end at the start of the game, and it ultimately killed us.”
This is the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the two teams. Arizona has won two of the first three games, including a 4-2 home victory on Jan. 2.
–Field Level Media