First-year Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet is taking a leave of absence to deal with a family illness, so assistant coach John MacLean will coach them against the Los Angeles Kings, a team that is back in control of its playoff destiny.
"Family comes first," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a statement issued Monday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Toc (Tocchet) as he deals with his personal matter. It's important that he takes the time to be there with his family."
MacLean, who spent 19 NHL seasons as a player, coached the New Jersey Devils at the start of the 2010-11 season but was let go after the team went 9-22-2 in its first 33 games.
Chayka did not indicate how long Tocchet -- who won the Stanley Cup the last two seasons as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach -- would be away from the team. He coached them to a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night at Gila River Arena.
The Kings moved into third place in the Western Conference on Monday by also shutting out the Canucks, this time by 3-0 as goaltender Jonathan Quick turned aside all 28 shots he faced. Anze Kopitar scored his 28th goal, and Adrian Kempe assisted on Tyler Toffoli's 22nd goal and Tanner Pearson 13th. Toffoli also assisted on Pearson's goal.
The Coyotes are 22-35-11 and own the NHL's worst record, but they've turned it around in the second half of the season and are 4-1-1 in their last six games and 10-3-2 in their past 15. They're 13-7-6 since the start of the year, beating the Canucks for the second time in five days behind backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper's first shutout with Arizona, a 27-save effort.
The Coyotes kept their recent surge going as defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the game-winning goal Sunday at 15:07 of the second period, his 10th goal of the season. His 27 game-winning goals since he broke into the NHL in 2010-11 are the most among NHL defensemen during that time.
"I'd rather be battling for a playoff spot than scoring goals," Ekman-Larsson said. "At the same time, it means I'm doing something good out there. I've been getting some good looks lately and it's nice to see them go in."
Kuemper, acquired from the Kings last month, seems to be getting a good look at opposing pucks these days. He's started the last four Coyotes games due to starter Antti Raanta's lower-body injury. He gave up only one goal in the two Coyotes victories against Vancouver, though he was also in net for a 5-2 loss at Colorado on Saturday.
"Every start, I feel more and more comfortable with the team," said Kuemper, who was 10-1-3 with Los Angeles before the Kings traded him.
If Raanta can't go again Tuesday night, Kuemper could oppose Jack Campbell, who replaced him as Quick's backup.
Every game is important right now for the Kings, who have won five of seven and eight of 12 despite being embarrassed 7-2 in a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at the Staples Center. Los Angeles is 1-0-1 against the Coyotes this season, losing 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 24 but beating them 6-0 on Feb. 3. The teams play against March 29 in Los Angeles.
"It was a good bounce-back game for us, and two points we really needed," Toffoli said of the win over Vancouver. "It was huge. We focused on tonight (Monday) and now we've got to start worrying about tomorrow (Tuesday), and we'll do that."
Kings center Jeff Carter has four goals and two assists in eight games since a Feb. 24 return from a 55-game layoff with an injured tendon in his leg. Carter has seven goals and 11 assists in 29 career games against Arizona.