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Improving Coyotes host injury-plagued Canucks

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes still are not a .500 team. They are still the lowest-scoring team in the NHL.

But they are not the team they were a season ago, and that could be a problem for the busy and beaten-up Vancouver Canucks when the teams meet Thursday at Gila River Arena.

The Canucks overcame a number of injuries to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in a shootout at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday night. Bo Horvat scored two goals while Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves and stopped all four Vegas attempts in the shootout. Markus Granlund was the only player to score in the four-round shootout.

Vancouver rebounded from a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday.

Canucks injuries sustained by defensemen Christopher Tanev and Alexander Edler and forward Sven Baertschi in that game sidelined them for Wednesday's contest. The Canucks already were playing without injured top-line center Elias Pettersson (concussion), who has missed the last five games, and right wing Brock Boeser (groin).

With all those injuries, the Canucks must turn around and play another game in less than 24 hours. There is a slight chance Pettersson could return, although he might wait until the Canucks open a five-game homestand Saturday. He has five goals and three assists in five games.

The Coyotes begin a five-game homestand at Gila River Arena against the Canucks, and, despite their 3-5 record, they are looking like a considerably improved team from a season ago.

Last season, the Coyotes didn't post a win until Oct. 30 -- they started 0-10-1 -- and didn't claim their third victory until Nov. 16, when they were 3-15-3 record. They never got close to .500 all season, despite going 20-14-7 in the second half of the season.

Now, they are coming off a 2-2 road trip that ended with a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, a win keyed by Christian Fischer's first career hat trick. They also beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 during the trip, and coach Rick Tocchet was encouraged by his team's play during a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

Maybe the Coyotes still aren't quite where Tocchet would like them to be -- they have scored an NHL-low 14 goals in eight games -- but they're much better off than they were last October, when their season was effectively over by Halloween.

While they are more competitive, the Coyotes would like to start winning at home -- and start scoring some goals. They have been shut out in both of their home games to date, a 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 6 and a 3-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 13.

The return of projected top line center Alex Galchenyuk could help Arizona. He played Tuesday for the first time this season after being out with a lower-body injury that occurred in the Coyotes' first preseason game. He missed seven games, but Tocchet liked what he saw in Galchenyuk's return.

"I think Alex was fine," Tocchet said. "I think that line was struggling a little bit on certain things. They were OK, they were trying to get some chemistry. Alex had surgery a month ago and rehab, and he'll be fine. I think there's some chemistry there."

Galchenyuk was the center on a line that had Lawson Crouse at left wing and Clayton Keller at right wing.

"It took me awhile to get the rhythm a little bit. With every shift I take, I'll get better and better," Galchenyuk said. "I tried to stay calm as I could even though there was a lot of excitement. ... You can't wait to get out there and play with the guys."

Coyotes starting goalie Antti Raanta sat out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms and could return, although backup Darcy Kuemper played well in his absence, allowing a goal in the first minute of the game but none after that. He made 35 saves.

"When they (his teammates) are playing like that, it makes it a lot easier," Kuemper said. "I was trying to do my part, and that was our whole mindset as a team. Everybody do their job."

The Canucks and Coyotes split four games last season, all of which were played in the final six weeks of the season.

Updated October 25, 2018

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