Monday Morning Howl: Coyotes Take Down NHL’s Best

With just one week to go in the regular season, the Arizona Coyotes are still playing hard despite having been unofficially eliminated from playoff contention since early November. In the words of head coach Rick Tocchet, this team could easily have “packed it in” for the year, but they haven’t – they’re 16-8-2 since Feb. 6, and have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the second half of the season.

Coyotes – So Hot Right Now

After their disappointing loss to the Florida Panthers on Mar. 24, the ‘Yotes stayed in the Sunshine State for a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. The Bolts have been the league’s best offensive team this season, averaging 3.51 goals per game, but the Coyotes and goaltender Antti Raanta decisively shut them down. “Rants” stopped 19 of the 20 Tampa shots he faced on the night en route to yet another victory by the score of 4-1.

Antti Raanta Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes then flew back to the Pacific Time Zone after four games out East and began a back-to-back in Vegas against the Golden Knights on Wednesday. After going winless in their first four matchups of the season against the Knights, the Coyotes came into T-Mobile Arena on a mission and left with a 3-2 victory. Kevin Connauton scored twice and Raanta added 27 more saves as the Coyotes took down the Pacific Division champions on the road.

Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton
Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

A trip to Southern California soon followed, and the ‘Yotes made a visit to the Staples Center on Thursday night for the fourth and final matchup of the season against the Los Angeles Kings. Backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper played well against everyone not named Jeff Carter – he stopped all 29 shots he saw from all other Kings’ skaters, but Carter beat him on three of his five shots for the hat trick and Anze Kopitar added an empty-netter to provide the final 4-2 margin of victory.

Arizona then made their way back to the Valley of the Sun and hosted the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night at Gila River Arena. In front of a standing-room-only crowd of 17,380, the Coyotes and Raanta put on a clinic. Luke Schenn, Richard Panik, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun, Alex Goligoski, and Zac Rinaldo all tickled the twine for the ‘Yotes, while Raanta made 34 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and 12th win in his last 14 appearances.

Coyotes Enter Home Stretch

After their resounding victory over the Blues on Saturday, the Coyotes will pack up and hit the road for their final road trip of the season, which will begin on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames. Arizona dealt Calgary a devastating 5-2 loss back on Mar. 19, so the Flames could be out for blood in this one, as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention last Monday. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in Calgary (6:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Mike Smith Flames
Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

On Thursday, the ‘Yotes will head to Vancouver and play their final road game of the season against the Canucks. This game has become a bit of a tradition between these two teams recently – Arizona has played Vancouver in the penultimate game of the season three times in the last four years. The Canucks won 5-0 back on Apr. 9, 2015, while the Coyotes won 4-3 on Apr. 6, 2017. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at Rogers Arena.

The Coyotes will then return home and will wrap up their season on Saturday night at Gila River Arena against the Anaheim Ducks. This one could have major playoff implications for the boys from SoCal – depending on how the week progresses, they may need a win in order to make the playoffs, and the ‘Yotes would love nothing more than to send another playoff hopeful to the pit of misery. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. in Glendale, and a second consecutive sellout crowd is expected.

Pacific Division Roundup

The Vegas Golden Knights have clinched first place in the Pacific Division, but that’s about the only thing that’s been decided out West. The Kings and Ducks (and Blues and Avalanche) are jockeying for position with the standings changing on a daily basis, while the Sharks have a small but decently comfortable three-point lead for spot No. 2 in the division. Hold on to your hats, folks – it’s gonna be a wild week.

Anaheim Ducks (41-25-13, 95 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-1 L at VAN, 2-1 OTW vs LA, 4-3 OTW vs COL)
  • Analysis: The Ducks needed to rebound after a loss to the struggling Vancouver Canucks to start the week, and rebound they did – they kept themselves in the playoff conversation with an overtime victory over the Kings on Friday, then jumped their rivals in the standings with another overtime win over the Avs on Sunday. Will the Ducks finish strong and ensure the return of playoff hockey to Orange County, or will they struggle and leave things to fate?
  • Player of the week: Ondrej Kase – Goal, 2 assists
  • This week: Wed vs MIN, Fri vs DAL, Sat at AZ
Ondrej Kase Ducks
Ondrej Kase, Anaheim Ducks, Oct. 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Calgary Flames (36-33-10, 82 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-0 L at LA, 5-1 L vs CBJ, 3-2 W vs EDM)
  • Analysis: The Flames finally snapped their losing streak at seven with a win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta on Saturday, but it’s likely that the win was bittersweet, as Calgary was already eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. It’s going to be another long offseason in the Stampede City.
  • Player of the week: Mike Smith – 1-1-0 record, 60 saves on 65 shots (.923 SV%, 2.51 GAA)
  • This week: Tue vs AZ, Thu at WPG, Sat vs VGK

Edmonton Oilers (34-39-6, 74 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (7-3 L vs CBJ, 2-1 L at VAN, 3-2 L at CGY)
  • Analysis: The Oilers’ maddening season continued last week – after going 3-0-1 in four games from Mar. 19 to Mar. 25, they dropped all three of their games in regulation last week by a combined score of 12-6 and guaranteed themselves a losing season as a result.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 2 goals, 2 assists
  • This week: Mon at MIN, Thu vs VGK, Sat vs VAN

Los Angeles Kings (43-28-8, 94 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (3-0 W vs CGY, 4-2 W vs AZ, 2-1 OTL at ANA)
  • Analysis: The Kings finally ended their 12-game stretch of alternating wins and losses with victories over Calgary and Arizona to start last week. They had a big chance on Friday to open up a four-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks for the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division, but they lost in overtime, 2-1, and will enter the final week with a one-point deficit as a result. The Kings won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed in 2012, but one has to imagine that they’d prefer to stay out of the Wild Card and away from the Golden Knights and Nashville Predators in the first round.
  • Player of the week: Jonathan Quick – 1-0-1 record, 54 saves on 56 shots (.964 SV%, 0.96 GAA), 1 shutout
  • This week: Mon vs COL, Thu vs MIN, Sat vs DAL
Jonathan Quick Kings
Jonathan Quick (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

San Jose Sharks (44-25-10, 98 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-1 (4-3 SOW at CHI, 3-2 OTL at STL, 5-3 L at NSH, 3-2 L at VGK)
  • Analysis: Well, there won’t be a Pacific Division championship coming to San Jose, but the Sharks can still likely lock up home-ice advantage for the first round with one win over the next three games. After losing three of four last week, San Jose will have three vital tune-up games at the Shark Tank before the postseason gets underway.
  • Player of the week: Joe Pavelski – 2 goals, assist
  • This week: Tue vs DAL, Thu vs COL, Sat vs MIN

Vancouver Canucks (30-40-9, 69 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (4-1 W vs ANA, 2-1 W vs EDM, 5-4 OTW vs CBJ)
  • Analysis: The Canucks are building some solid momentum as the season winds down – they’ve won five of their last six games, with three of their victories coming against either playoff teams or clubs fighting for their playoff lives. One has to imagine how differently this season could have gone in British Columbia if the Canucks were healthy all season.
  • Player of the week: Jacob Markstrom – 2-0-0 record, 58 saves on 60 shots (.967 SV%, 1.00 GAA)
  • This week: Tue vs VGK, Thu vs AZ, Sat at EDM

Vegas Golden Knights (50-22-7, 107 points)

  • Last week: 3-1-0 (4-1 W vs COL, 3-2 L vs AZ, 4-3 OTW vs STL, 3-2 W vs SJ)
  • Analysis: The Vegas Golden Knights have accomplished the unthinkable – they have clinched the Pacific Division title in their first year of existence and will have home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – if you have the chance to get out to Las Vegas for a game, do it.
  • Player of the week: William Karlsson – 3 goals, 6 assists, +5
  • This week: Tue at VAN, Thu at EDM, Sat at CGY

We’ll leave you with this goal of the year candidate from the Golden Knights’ William Karlsson: