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Kuemper makes 27 saves, Coyotes shut out Canucks

Vancouver Canucks center Brandon Sutter (20) checks Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) into the boards as linesman Bryan Pancich (94) braces for the hit during the first period of an NHL hockey team Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Darcy Kuemper’s early returns as a Coyote were a mixed bag. He went 1-2-1, allowing 12 goals in the three losses as he adjusted to new teammates, new surroundings and a new style of play.

Kuemper’s three games against the Vancouver Canucks have been a different story. He has grown progressively better against them, capping his play with a perfect performance on Sunday at Gila River Arena.

Kuemper made 27 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the lone goal in the Coyotes’ 1-0 win. Kuemper, who was making his fourth straight start and second in two nights, also made 16 saves in Arizona’s 2-1 win at Vancouver on Wednesday.

“It’s nice to get these consecutive starts and just kind of get in a rhythm,” said Kuemper, who posted his first shutout as a Coyote. “Every start, I feel more and more comfortable with the team and how we play.”

The Coyotes made it easy on Kuemper in the early going. Vancouver managed just four shots on goal in the first period, but Kuemper made a key save on Nikolay Goldobin at 11:30 to keep the game scoreless.

“It’s so big, in game, when a goaltender makes a save,” center Derek Stepan said. “If you’re the guy that makes a mistake and he bails you out, it builds confidence and it allows you to win hockey games.”

Kuemper made a big save on Sam Gagner’s wrist shot at 18:29 of the third period, and Daniel Sedin hit the post in the closing seconds.

Antti Raanta missed his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury. General manager John Chayka said there is no structural damage and no concern on the team’s part that it is a long-term injury. Chayka said Raanta is just working through a lingering issue.

Ekman-Larsson scored the game’s lone goal on a power play at 15:07 of the second period. Stepan received a pass from Clayton Keller at the left face-off circle with Ekman-Larsson sliding toward him and his stick in the air for several seconds. Stepan fed Ekman-Larsson and his slap shot banked off Markstrom’s body and into the net.

While a lot of players use the beaver tail method of tapping their stick on the ice to alert their teammates to a passing opportunity, Ekman-Larsson used a different method.

“Give me the puck, maybe?” he said, when asked what he called it. “I was about to turn away from him but he made a good play there and it was nice to get one on my good friend, [Markstrom].”

It was Ekman-Larsson’s 10th goal of the season, the fifth straight season in which he has scored at least 10 goals. He leads all defensemen with 27 game-winning goals since the start of his career in 2010-11.

The Coyotes are 4-1-1 in their past six games and 10-3-2 in their past 15. They have allowed two goals or fewer in eight of their past 13 games.

In keeping with coach Rick Tocchet’s desire to build an identity at home, Arizona is 7-2-1 in its past 10 home games.

“We had a long road trip and a tough place to play in Colorado,” said Tocchet, whose team just came off a three-game trip through Edmonton, Vancouver and Denver. “I liked the mental toughness of our team tonight.”

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