By LOU KORAC
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's not often that in Game No. 71, a team is playing an opponent for the first time.
But for the Blues and Arizona Coyotes, such is the case tonight at Gila River Arena.
The Blues (37-28-5), playing the fourth of a five-game, 10-day road trip, will not only see the Coyotes (26-35-9) for the first time today (8 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), but they will see them three of the next six games.
The Blues, playing another stretch of three games in four days, are 3-4-0 when playing the third game in four nights after the third game comes following a day off after back-to-back games (if that makes sense). This will be the sixth game in nine days (Blues are 4-1-0 during this stretch).
"Our challenge is to make sure that we understand that our next game is going to be difficult as well," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Different opponent. I don't care where they're at in the standings. I'm looking at their play right now, I'm looking at the players that they have on the ice and I know that we're going to have to be ready to be sharp and that's a good test for us."
The Blues will finish the season playing 10 of their final 12 regular season games against teams currently on the outside looking in on the playoff line, but the Coyotes are 3-0-2 in their past five games and 5-3-2 in the past 10, so even though they're lounging in 13th place out of 14 Western Conference teams, the young 'Yotes aren't bowing down quietly to opponents.
The Blues have won eight straight meetings with Arizona, outscoring the Coyotes 35-12, and have points in 12 straight (11-0-1). The Blues' last loss here was March 22, 2011.
"It would be a huge mistake on our part to say that we've gotten through the tough part of our schedule," Yeo said. "These are teams that generally from March on, they're .500 or better hockey teams because they play without fear, they play loose and those games get dangerous.
"... Part of our message to our group tonight is, 'They don't care who they're playing tonight.' They showed that (Tuesday) night in L.A. For them, it's a bunch of these guys that are going out trying to prove they belong in the NHL, they're trying to show what they can do and so they can rev the game up and sometimes when that happens, you can get revved up with it and it can get going back and forth and turn into a bit of a 50/50 game. Managing the game, managing the puck, making sure that we bring the physical and emotional levels that we need tonight are going to be huge."
"Arizona beat L.A. away recently, so we can't take anything for granted," said forward Magnus Paajarvi. "We've still got to play our desperation hockey because that's when we play at our best and when everybody's on their toes."
The Blues opted to not skate Saturday morning, and any lineup changes will come from Yeo when he speaks later today at 4:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. CT).
"For some guys it's taxing," left wing Scottie Upshall said. "It's hard on our top players. It's a chance for our young players like 'Barby' (Ivan Barbashev) and 'Sands' (Zach Sanford) and 'Maggy,' our line to balance out ice time to really try to help pull this thing in the right way. You can't lean on your (Vladimir) Tarasenko's, (Alexander) Steen's, (Alex) Pietrangelo's, (Jay) Bouwmeester's every night. They've been doing a great job of keeping this team together and making sure we're doing all the right things."
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Sanford made his second appearance in a Blues uniform Thursday since being acquired from the Washington Capitals in the trade for Kevin Shattenkirk and made a favorable impression with the game-winning goal in the second period -- his first point with the Blues -- of a 4-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.
Sanford made his Blues debut against the Winnipeg Jets on March 3 but was more effective against the Sharks despite just 9 minutes, 41 seconds of ice time.
"He gave us a goal and gave us a lot of good shifts," Yeo said of Sanford. "... That first game, a lot of emotion coming to a new place, trying to learn the group, learn the system. I thought he was OK his first game. Big step in this game (Thursday)."
It's been an adjustment for the 22-year-old Sanford but one he's getting accustomed to.
"Just the ice time and hanging out with the guys on the road, being at the hotel and doing stuff with them," Sanford said. "It's helped me feel real comfortable right away.
"We're best when we're attacking quickly and getting in on the forecheck. I thought we did that (Thursday). It turned out well for us."
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Carter Hutton's last start against the Sharks was par for the course considering he came in 3-0-1 lifetime against San Jose.
But winning at SAP Center made him 3-0-0 in that building with a minuscule 0.33 goals-against average.
But more importantly for Hutton, he is now 6-2-0 with a 1.04 GAA and .963 save percentage in his last eight road starts, stopping 211 of 219 shots.
Take away a start against the Minnesota Wild in which he allowed five goals on 30 shots, the numbers would be microscopic.
"I don't really think too much of it," Hutton said. "I consider myself playing well against everybody."
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Tarasenko has six goals in six games after scoring twice Thursday and has five points (three goals, two assists) the past three games against Arizona.
Patrik Berglund has four goals and two assists in the last 6 games against the Coyotes.
Jaden Schwartz has five goals and 3 assists over the last six games against Arizona.
Steen has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) the past eight games against the Coyotes.
Jake Allen, who will start tonight, is 5-0-0 with a 1.20 GAA and a .953 save percentage in his career against Arizona.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup
Scratches include Nail Yakupov and Jordan Schmaltz. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season and Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are day to day.
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The Coyotes' projected lineup:
Max Domi-Christian Dvorak-Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini-Jordan Martinook-Tobias Rieder
Jamie McGinn-Peter Holland-Anthony Duclair
Lawson Crouse-Josh Jooris-Teemu Pulkkinen
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Luke Schenn
Alex Goligoski-Connor Murphy
Jakob Chychrun-Anthony DeAngelo
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal; Louis Domingue would be the backup.
Shane Doan (lower body), Alexander Burmistrov (upper body), Kevin Connauton (upper body) and Brad Richardson (leg) are all out.