Recent results have cost the St. Louis Blues sole possession of first place in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. They may find comfort in knowing they've booked a chance to compete for a much bigger prize.
The Blues should get a big boost with the return of center Alex Steen as they attempt to regain the lead atop the NHL standings against a desperate Coyotes team Sunday night at Jobing.com Arena.
St. Louis (46-20-9) has already clinched its first playoff spot since 2008-09, but is 1-2-2 after winning nine of 10. Those recent struggles, which include being shut out twice, have left the Blues and the New York Rangers tied with a league-leading 101 points.
The Blues struggled to pull away in the race for their first Presidents' Trophy since 1999-2000, getting blanked again in Thursday's 1-0 shootout defeat at Los Angeles. Still, St. Louis is surely more concerned with eventually making a run at its first Stanley Cup.
That could get easier with Steen's return. The veteran center had 13 goals, 11 assists and was plus-20 in 36 games before suffering a concussion that's kept him out since Dec. 27. He was activated early Sunday and should face Phoenix.
The Coyotes (37-26-13) are still trying to assure themselves of a chance to join the Blues in the playoffs, and a 4-5-4 record this month has left their fate very much up in the air.
Phoenix is seventh in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Los Angeles and San Jose and two in front of Colorado, which are vying for the eighth and final playoff position.
"We know our situation," coach Dave Tippett said. "We know where we are, we know where we want to get to."
The Coyotes failed to create some more separation from that pack Saturday, losing 4-3 in a shootout to the Sharks.
"They're playing playoff hockey right now like we are," defenseman Derek Morris said. "It was a tight game. It could have gone either way. It was just a battle on every single shift."
Some production from the power play could make a difference for Phoenix. The unit has converted just 3 of 30 chances over the last 11 games, going 0 for 6 in the past two.
Another rough performance could be in store since St. Louis has killed 62 of the last 64 power plays its faced over 19 contests.
Ray Whitney is providing some production with two goals and eight assists during a seven-game point streak. The left wing has four goals and two assists in his last 10 meetings with the Blues, but five of those points came in a win on Nov. 13, 2010, and he has just a goal in five matchups since.
The Blues have beaten the Coyotes in both meetings this season, winning 4-1 at home Jan. 3 after a 3-2 victory in Phoenix on Dec. 23. These teams will meet for the fourth and final time at St. Louis on April 6 in the penultimate game of the regular season.
T.J. Oshie had a goal in the most recent meeting with the Coyotes, giving him five points in five games. He hasn't been as effective recently, getting two points in six games after collecting eight in the prior eight.
His team-leading 50 points are a personal best, while his 18 goals match his career high from 2009-10.
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