Despite a three-game losing streak in which they've been outscored 10-3 in regulation time, the Arizona Coyotes got some good news Sunday with the return of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson after 43 games out with a broken leg.
And despite the recent woes, the Coyotes are in the thick of a five-teambattle for the top spot in the Pacific Division, entering Monday sitting in a tie for first. Just two points separate the top five teams, and the Coyotes play two of those other four teams in the next three games.
First, however, comes a home game against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
The Coyotes held a 3-2 lead in the third period Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but lost it -- and the game -- in an overtime shootout.
"It's going to be big games now every single time until the end of the season," Hjalmarsson told reporters after the game. "Every single point is big. We were up 3-2 and you can never be happy with a late goal ... obviously we want two points, we can work a little bit harder for the next game."
Arizona had won three straight at home until the Penguins game, and has raised its home record to 11-10-2 this season. The Coyotes and Sharks have split the first two meetings this season, with each team winning on the road.
Adin Hill is the Coyotes goaltender at present, with All-Star Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta out with injuries. Hill has started three of the last four games.
"He battled. He stood tall for us when we needed it," center Derek Stepan said of Hill following Sunday's game. "He's been battling since he got here. The kid just wants to continue to grow as a goaltender."
The Sharks have won two straight and are 4-1-1 in their last six games. Goaltender Aaron Dell made 27 saves for his fourth win in five decisions when the Sharks beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Saturday.
"I feel pretty good right now. I feel I'm getting better every outing," Dell told NHL.com after Saturday's win. "I think we're getting some more confidence as a team. We're starting to do the little things more consistently throughout the game."
Defenseman Brent Burns sustained an upper-body injury early in the second period but returned in the third, and is expected to play Tuesday and continue his streak of 518 consecutive games played. Fellow defenseman Erik Karlsson has a five-game point streak, with a goal and five assists in that stretch.
"We're playing the right way and giving ourselves a chance to win every night," Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. "More than anything it's just that we're trying to take care of our own game. We're managing the puck better and I think we're playing a much more responsible game and mature game."
The Sharks have a tough schedule heading into next week's All-Star break. They face three current playoff contenders in the Western Conference on the road, starting with the Coyotes. Colorado and Vancouver follow.
--Field Level Media