You might be wondering what has gone wrong so far this year for the Arizona Coyotes. For that, I’d tell you it might be easier to instead ask what has gone right this season. The answer? Not much.
At 0-9-1 through the season’s first 10 games, the Desert Dogs are just one defeat away from tying the record set by the 1943-44 New York Rangers for most consecutive losses to start a season.
Rick Tocchet’s Coyotes can’t score, can’t defend, and can’t stop the puck. Being bad at any one of those is usually enough to keep a team out of the playoffs in the NHL. The Coyotes are atrocious in all three areas.
Goaltending Continues to Be a Problem
The most glaring weakness so far this season for the Coyotes has been their goaltending. Since losing Antti Raanta to injury on Oct. 12, the Coyotes have cycled between Louis Domingue and Adin Hill in goal. Hill got the nod on Thursday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden after watching Domingue lose his previous two starts against the Blackhawks and Islanders.
To be fair, Domingue wasn’t terrible in either of those two games, but he also wasn’t great. He did all he could to give the Coyotes a chance to win against Chicago, but the team hung him out to dry against the Islanders in his next start as John Tavares scored three deflection goals for his seventh career hat trick.
For Hill, Thursday was his first action since allowing five goals against Dallas on Oct. 19. His .833 save percentage that night wasn’t pretty, but he arguably wasn’t at fault for three of the five goals that he let in. He was the victim of some shoddy defensive play in front of him, and that theme continued in the Big Apple on Thursday.
A neutral zone turnover by Derek Stepan quickly led to a goal by Chris Kreider in the first period. Another critical defensive breakdown followed in the second period (more on this later) and Hill was unable to cover up his team’s mistakes as the Rangers easily defeated the Coyotes, 5-2.
However, Hill wasn’t completely blameless in Thursday’s loss. The Rangers’ second goal was a very stoppable shot, and the fourth goal was also ugly. Hill turned the puck over while attempting to pass it to a teammate, and the Rangers quickly made the young goalie pay for his error as they jumped on the loose puck and had it in the net within three seconds.
More Defensive Breakdowns
Although the Coyotes’ goaltenders have struggled this season, it doesn’t really matter who they have in net at this point. Arizona could trade for Carey Price but they still wouldn’t be competitive because they continue to make egregious errors in their own zone.
Case in point: the third goal allowed on Thursday night. Before we begin to cover the defensive lapse on this play, let’s note that this goal was recorded just 46 seconds after Anthony Duclair scored at 5:13 to cut New York’s lead in half. Surrendering a goal shortly after scoring one has been a problem all season for the Coyotes – this was the 10th time in 10 games that Arizona allowed their opponent to answer within two minutes.
Now, back to the defensive coverage on Michael Grabner’s goal. The play started innocently enough – Boo Nieves skated the puck across the line and immediately found himself being forced to the outside by Coyotes forward Brad Richardson. Grabner also crossed into the Coyotes’ zone and headed to the net. Surely Jason Demers, the covering defenseman and a veteran of more than 500 NHL games, would pick up his man and prevent him from scoring a ‘gimme’ similar to the one Jamie Benn scored earlier this season against Arizona’s beleaguered penalty kill unit.
This would not be the case, though. Demers again left the middle of the ice wide open and headed to the corner to defend against Nieves, who, as mentioned above, was already being handled by Richardson. This left Grabner all alone in front of Hill, and the result wasn’t pretty:
Don’t get me wrong, Hill let in two soft goals on Thursday and is at fault just as much as anyone on the team for the loss. However, he really can’t be held accountable for the team’s performance in front of him. At some point, the Coyotes need to help out their goaltender.
Back to Square One
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet called out Demers’ play, as well as the play of others, following the game:
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) October 27, 2017
Tocchet has said all of the right things following each of Arizona’s 10 losses, but, so far, the players haven’t responded. Game after game, the same simple mistakes continue to be made. Will the club turn things around on Saturday in New Jersey? Or has this team not yet hit rock bottom?