Fresh off a two-game road trip to Alberta in which they took three of a possible four points from games against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, the Arizona Coyotes are back home to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
The Coyotes are among the most intriguing stories of the first month of the NHL regular season, with a 9-4-2 record that has them near the top in the hotly contested Pacific Division. Expectations were raised in the Valley of the Sun for a team that contended for a wild-card spot most of last season, and these Coyotes have looked like a team ready to take the next step.
Arizona was in position to win Tuesday night in Calgary, holding a 3-1 lead until the final 3:30 of the game. Then the Flames scored twice to force overtime, and Matthew Tkachuk won it for the home team.
"We still got a point, so it's not the end of the world," said Vinnie Hinostroza, who scored his first goal of the season. "As soon as I scored, I felt 200 pounds lighter. It was nice to get one in, but to give up the two-goal lead in the third, obviously that's not what we want."
Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said the team was affected by penalties, which forced players into more ice time coming off a game at Edmonton on Monday night.
The Blue Jackets (5-7-3) have managed just a point from the past five games, which came from an overtime loss at St. Louis. They have lost five consecutive games, but Columbus has won seven of the last eight meetings against Arizona.
The Blue Jackets' minus-17 goal differential is second worst in the Eastern Conference. They fell 2-1 at home to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night and have scored just five goals in their last four games.
"We're close, but it doesn't put you in the win column," head coach John Tortorella said.
Columbus was also frustrated by numerous missed scoring opportunities and inconsistent puck possession.
"We got a little sloppy with turnovers, lost our patience with some turnovers at their blue line, a couple behind their net," Tortorella said.
Columbus will be without defenseman Markus Nutivaara, who was hit in the head with a puck and did not return Tuesday night.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is the team's goals and points leader with six and 10, respectively. For Arizona, Conor Garland's seven goals lead the team, and Nick Schmaltz paces the Coyotes with 14 points, 10 from assists.
The Blue Jackets are starting a three-game road trip that will take them to the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens after they play the Coyotes, who get the next two games at home before heading to Washington, St. Louis and Minnesota.
Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper has a .940 save percentage and 1.68 goals-against average, both best in the league. Kuemper didn't play Tuesday, with Antti Raanta getting the start in the second game of a back-to-back set.