For the Arizona Coyotes, the post-All-Star break portion of last year featured a slumping offense, the departure of veterans at the trade deadline to help build the future and a slight rebound for a struggling Mike Smith. This year has seen Arizona’s fortunes turn around dramatically as the Coyotes enter the break. The Coyotes have already matched their win total from the 2014-15 season and hold the third seed in the Pacific Division as the 30 NHL teams head to Nashville for All-Star Weekend. Arizona still has a lot of work to do in the second half if they want to end their three-year playoff drought and that includes taking care of business at home. Here is a look at some key matchups for the Coyotes at Gila River Arena once play resumes next week.
February 2 vs. Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Kings have been running away with the Pacific Division for most of the season, yet the Coyotes have had their number all year. Arizona is 3-0-1 against Los Angeles heading into their final regular season matchup, which will be the first game for the Coyotes after the All-Star break. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the leading Arizona scorer against the Kings with four goals and an assist in four games. Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick has been stellar against the rest of the league with a 25-9-2 record, a 2.02 GAA and a .926 save percentage. However, he is 1-3-0 against Arizona this year with a 3.25 GAA and a .867 save percentage.
March 5 vs. Florida
Who would have guessed that this matchup would be between a playoff hopeful Coyotes team and a potential division champion in the Florida Panthers? That is what could possibly happen in six weeks when the Panthers make their lone visit to Gila River Arena. Young talent has mostly led the two teams to success but they both have a longtime veteran that has found the scoring touch late in their careers. Arizona captain Shane Doan leads the Coyotes with 17 goals and he is closing in on the all-time franchise record for points, trailing Dale Hawerchuk by four. Meanwhile in Sunrise, NHL legend Jaromir Jagr is currently second on the team in goals with 15 and second in points with 33. It shapes up to be an interesting battle between two veterans with more than 40 years combined of NHL experience (provided that Jagr makes it through the All-Star Game).
March 17 vs. San Jose
The Coyotes have cruised against the Pacific Division this season, going 11-2-2 versus their rivals. However, the San Jose Sharks are the lone division foe that Arizona has not beaten yet, handing the Coyotes a 3-1 defeat in their first matchup last Thursday. The Coyotes will get four more shots at the Sharks this year, including on St. Patrick’s Day when San Jose makes their only other trip to Glendale. The Sharks and Coyotes are currently battling for second place in the Pacific, a position that awards home-ice in the first round of the playoffs. These two teams also meet in San Jose on the last day of the season, which could have playoff implications for both teams.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.