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Coyotes find success against struggling teams

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Too bad the last-place Arizona Coyotes couldn't have found this formula much earlier in the season.

How to start winning consistently? Play teams that are slumping badly.

The Chicago Blackhawks, losers of their last six? Played and beaten. The Montreal Canadiens, losers of four in a row? Played and beaten. Up next for the suddenly on-a-roll Coyotes? The Edmonton Oilers, losers of their last five.

The Coyotes (16-32-10) always seemed to run into hot teams or hot goaltenders earlier in the season, when they'd go weeks without winning more than a game. Now they're starting to play teams that are sliding out of playoff contention, and they're taking advantage.

The Coyotes have won three in a row for only the second time all season and four of five. They're 5-4-1 in their last 10 and 7-5-5 in their last 17 -- modest by most teams' standards, but an upgrade for a team that started 0-10-1.

"I think the main thing over the course of the year is never get too high and never get too low," said forward Brendan Perlini, who scored twice only 14 seconds apart during a 5-2 win over Montreal on Thursday. "The last few games have been good for us, but we have a lot to learn and a lot to prove."

Coach Rick Tocchet can tell the difference.

"I like a loose team, a confident team," he said Friday during an off-day practice.

Tocchet felt the Coyotes were a bit too loose and confident while building a 3-0 lead Thursday over the Canadiens, who came back with two goals. But goalie Antti Raanta did some timely yelling at the bench, and Tocchet said it made a difference as the Coyotes won the first game of a seven-game homestand.

"He's got a bite to his game. ... He went to the bench and barked at some guys," Tocchet said. "The next thing you know, we win 5-2."

Raanta (11-14-6), who is in a contract year, has won four of five while giving up only three goals in his last three games. Also, rookie center Clayton Keller is coming off the first four-point game of his career -- he had a goal and three assists Thursday -- while breaking out of a slump with three goals and five assists for eight points in five games. Before that, the Coyotes' team scoring leader with 17 goals and 44 points went 12 games without a goal.

"He had a spell there where he was tired," Tocchet said. "As a kid you're trying to find yourself in the NHL, and I think in our last seven games he's back to the Clayton of the first couple of months."

Connor McDavid always seems to be Connor McDavid for the Oilers, and last season's Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer is among the league scoring leaders with 23 goals and 66 points.

McDavid has eight goals and four assists in seven games this month, including a four-goal game, but was held without a point in two of the Oilers' last three games. Now, a team that has dropped seven of 10 -- and has a league-low 13 points since Jan. 1 -- faces a difficult back-to-back weekend with afternoon games Saturday at Arizona and Sunday at Colorado.

The Oilers (23-29-4) beat Arizona 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 28 and 4-2 on Jan. 12, and a key to them making it three in a row over the Coyotes could be getting the first goal. They're 14-4-2 when they score the first goal but 9-25-2 when they allow the first goal.

"We've got to find a way to get the first one and, even if we don't get the first one, just make sure we're creating positive momentum early on," forward Drake Caggiula said. "That way we can build for the rest of the game."

The Oilers are hoping goaltender Al Montoya is ready to go in at least one of the two weekend games, although Cam Talbot (19-21) is likely to start against Arizona. Montoya was being evaluated after taking a shot off his mask Friday in practice at Gila River Arena.

Updated February 16, 2018

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