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‘Playoff’-like games await Coyotes; Antti Raanta nearing return

Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet likened the next two games for his team to being like postseason games.

The Coyotes entered Wednesday in first place and have just two games left before a 10-day break.

“I think it’s a playoff series type of thing. I’d like to think that way,” Tocchet said. “Saying that, the results, we’ll see what happens. It’s not devastation if you lose and we’re not planning any parades if we win. But I still think there’s a temperament or a mindset that these are playoff games.”

Both games are on the road. On Thursday, the Coyotes will be in Vancouver to play the Canucks and then finish out the pre-All-Star schedule on Saturday at Edmonton.

“You’re getting to the 30-game (remaining) mark and then the next thing you know, two weeks, three weeks later… Games are getting knocked off,” Tocchet said. “You can’t take every game for granted. You can’t say, ‘Oh the next game.’ You’ve really got to get consistent. Teams have got to start playing really consistent. And that’s what we’re striving for right now.”

Arizona will have played 51 games by the time it reaches the long break, which is a combination of a league-mandated week off plus the All-Star break. There’s the classic argument, though, of rest versus rust; the debate of whether it’s better to keep playing or sit out for a bit.

“I think for us, it’s good,” Tocchet said. “I’m not a big fan of long breaks in the NHL in general, but it is what it is. But for our team, I think we need this … It’s been a tough first half, miles-wise, travel — I can tell the guys are getting a little tired. Energy-wise has been a little bit low, so winning these games is a big plus for us.

“Saying that, you get your rest, you’ve got to still have your edge after the break because now it’s all downhill. But yeah, we could use the break, for sure.”

The Coyotes had a three-game losing streak at the end of December but went on to go 5-2-1 since then. They’ll have played nine games in January’s first 18 days.

“I think we’ve got some guys banged up and it’s a long season,” forward Nick Schmaltz said. “We’ve had a lot of games in a short amount of time, so it will be nice to get away for a little bit and just kind of recharge everything and come back for a playoff push.”

ANTTI RAANTA STATUS UPDATE

Goaltender Antti Raanta participated in Wednesday’s practice and seems to be inching closer to a return; perhaps even before the break.

“He’s a possible for Saturday, but we’re not in a rush,” Tocchet said while talking to Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

“If he feels good, we’re not afraid to use him. But [Adin Hill] has been in there the last two games battling for us and the team’s played well in front of him.”

This year’s Coyotes have gone 2-1-1 in games in which the goaltender Hill has played the entire game. He’s had to play while Raanta and Darcy Kuemper have both been out with lower-body injuries. Ivan Prosvetov has been the backup and has not seen game action yet.

“[Hill], the last two games I think really battled hard,” Tocchet said. “Like there was times in both games there where he made like a really tough stop that really helped us. That’s what I like about Hilly. Obviously two, three years ago, his style was a little bit ugly and he’s worked on his technique and he’s getting better and better. He looks bigger in the net than he did last year, to me. And he’s just battling and we have no problem putting him in the net.”

Kuemper is “feeling better” but the team is keeping him sidelined until after the All-Star break.

“We’ve had some great goaltending from Hillsy and I think we’ve done a good job as a team just defending the house and not giving up a whole lot of Grade-A chances, and really focusing on that part of our game,” Schmaltz said. “When you lose two goalies like that it’s obviously a big loss, but we haven’t really missed a beat with Hillsy. He’s been stellar for us.

“Just defending as a whole I think has been really good.”

Since Kuemper got hurt on Dec. 19, the Coyotes have allowed an average of 2.75 goals per game. That’s the seventh-best in the NHL in that span.

OTHER INJURY UPDATES

— Brad Richardson (lower-body) left Tuesday night’s game and did not return. “He’s probably not going to play the next game,” Tocchet said. “I don’t know when he’ll play.

The Coyotes called up forward Michael Chaput in Richardson’s absence.

— Conor Garland, Jordan Oesterle and Alex Goligoski all took maintenance days from practice on Wednesday.


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