The Arizona Coyotes have picked an inopportune time to struggle.
Heading into Saturday night’s road clash with the Los Angeles Kings, the Coyotes are sitting in fourth place in the West Division, but that perch is precarious.
Arizona (20-22-5, 45 points) is one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who have three games in hand, and enters Saturday having lost two straight games and seven of eight, with all of those defeats in regulation time.
The top four teams in each division will advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s kind of a make-or-break road trip for us,” Arizona forward Dryden Hunt said. “You don’t want to look at the standings every minute, but everybody knows it’s right there for the taking.”
The Coyotes, who are coming off a 4-1 home loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, go from Los Angeles to San Jose for a pair of clashes with the Sharks. Arizona has nine games remaining: three against the Kings, four at San Jose, and two home dates with the Vegas Golden Knights.
As much as they’re struggling to win, the Coyotes look at the loss to Minnesota as a step forward. Arizona outshot the Wild 40-23 but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal in a game that was 1-1 going into the third period.
“We’ve got to find a way to put the puck in the net. That was the biggest difference,” Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “The guys were hungry. We were good on the forecheck and forcing (Minnesota) to turn over the puck. The forwards did a great job and made it easier for us to play on the back end. We definitely need to bring the energy here when we go on the road. It’s going to be a big three games for us coming up.”
The Kings (17-21-6, 40 points) have won three of the five meetings with the Coyotes this season, including one in a shootout, but are having their own struggles of late. Los Angles has lost three of its past four games, the latest a 4-2 defeat to the Wild on Friday.
The Kings sit seventh in the division, but with a dozen games remaining have a small hope of a miracle climb. After all, a win over the Coyotes would close their gap. That was the message from the team after falling to the Wild.
“A loss is a loss. In fact, we better all be over it already because we’ve got a big game (Saturday),” coach Todd McLellan said. “We didn’t climb, but we didn’t fall … so we get another chance. If we put the same type of effort in and the same type of game, we’ll win our share.”
The Kings had a 42-24 shot advantage against the Wild, but — just like the Coyotes — couldn’t find the go-ahead goal when they had the opportunity.
“We did a good job in our defensive zone keeping them to the outside. I thought we played well,” forward Gabriel Vilardi said. “Obviously, it’s a tough loss, but it is what it is. We’ve got to move forward.
“It’s tough. You play well, but that’s life sometimes. Sometimes you go for it and it doesn’t work out, but we’ve got to rebound.”
Among their final 10 games, the Kings have four against the last-place Anaheim Ducks, three against the Coyotes, two with the high-octane Colorado Avalanche and one against the St. Louis Blues.
–Field Level Media