Coyotes Weekly: Still in the Playoff Hunt

With less than three weeks to go, and with the Arizona Coyotes still firmly entrenched in a tight race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, there’s no doubt that, over the next few weeks, every game (and point) matters.

There are only nine games remaining, and only 18 more points can be gathered, giving the Coyotes a 96-point maximum for this season. Six wins in those nine games will give Arizona 90 points – would that be enough to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs? Can they gather those much-needed wins with five road games and four home contests remaining?

We’ll soon find out.

Coyotes Week in Review

After splitting a tough Central Division road back-to-back, the Coyotes returned home and kicked off a short two-game homestand on Thursday evening at Gila River Arena against the Anaheim Ducks. Following a 3-1 loss to Bob Murray’s squad back on Mar. 5 in what was, in Rick Tocchet’s words, a “garbage” effort, the ‘Yotes were determined not to lose another game to the Pacific Division’s seventh-place team. They indeed scored the first goal of the game late in the opening period, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat goaltender Ryan Miller with a long-range wrister for the team’s 15th shorthanded goal of the season. Jason Demers then added another goal shortly thereafter, and, after Jakob Silfverberg cut Arizona’s lead in half early into the second period, Vinnie Hinostroza proceeded to score a natural hat trick in what eventually became a dominating 6-1 Arizona victory.

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The Coyotes then welcomed Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers to Glendale on Saturday night in another must-win game against a non-playoff team. Arizona entered the game with the better record between the two teams, but Edmonton entered with the best player on the ice, and this one rapidly became the “McDavid Show” as a result. No. 97 in Orange, Blue and White factored in on all three Oilers’ goals – he scored a shorty to open the scoring in the first period, he collected the primary assist on Matt Benning’s second-period goal, then put home the GWG in overtime to give Edmonton a 3-2 victory.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid stole the show on Saturday evening in Glendale. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With their two-game homestand in the books, the Coyotes hit the road and began their final “big” road trip of the season on Monday night in Tampa Bay. The Lightning entered the game as the NHL’s highest-scoring team, and they boasted the league’s No. 1 power play and penalty kill units as well. However, the Coyotes played well against the league’s Presidents’ Trophy winners – they took an early lead on a goal from Clayton Keller which came after a number of great shifts in the offensive zone, but, eventually, Tampa’s talent took over. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman both scored to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead, and Andrei Vasilevskiy took things from there – he made 28 saves on 29 shots and, after two late empty netters, the Lightning took this one 4-1.

A Look Ahead

After their loss in Tampa, the ‘Yotes will remain in the Sunshine State and will look to get back on track when they visit Keith Yandle and the Florida Panthers on Thursday evening. These two teams met very recently in Glendale, when the Coyotes picked up a 4-3 shootout victory after Derek Stepan tied the game late in the third period with a shorthanded goal. After having the previous two days off to rest and relax in South Florida, energy shouldn’t be an issue for Arizona in this one, which will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in Sunrise (4:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Florida Panthers Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle and the Florida Panthers will provide a tough test for a hungry Coyotes team. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

From there, Arizona will make the flight up to New York City for a back-to-back starting on Saturday afternoon in Newark against the New Jersey Devils. As they continue to stay in the hunt for the postseason, this is a game that, on paper, the Coyotes should win. New Jersey is one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams, and Arizona already let a point slip away against the Devils at Gila River Arena back on Jan. 4 in a 3-2 shootout loss. They can’t afford to give away any points against non-playoff teams during the season’s home stretch – this vitally important game will get started at 1:00 P.M. local time at the Prudential Center (10:00 A.M. in Arizona).

New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider has upped his level of play as of late – the Coyotes will need to find a way to beat him. (AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

The finale of Arizona’s four-game roadie will come on Sunday afternoon when the Coyotes will visit the New York Islanders. The game will be Arizona’s first at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum since the Islanders left for the Barclays Center following the 2014-15 season. With the Islanders occupying the No. 2 spot in the Metropolitan Division, Arizona’s recent struggles at the Coliseum (and Barclays Center), New York’s defensive prowess under new coach Barry Trotz, and the fact that this is the second half of a back-to-back, it could be a tough day on the Island. The Coyotes need to find a way to get at least one point out of this one – puck drop is scheduled for 3:00 P.M. local time (12 noon in Arizona) in Uniondale.

Following their back-to-back in NYC, the Coyotes will return home to Arizona for a vitally important home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. As of this writing, the Blackhawks are just four points behind Arizona in the Western Conference wild-card standings with a game in hand – the ‘Yotes can’t afford to drop this one and let one of their rivals get closer in the hunt for the postseason. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

Chicago Blackhawks Brendan Perlini
Arizona needs to prevent former Coyote Brendan Perlini from burning them again in the next matchup between the teams. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Pacific Division Roundup

We finally have some separation in the Pacific with less than three weeks to go in the regular season, but what’s happening with the rest of the division?

Anaheim Ducks (30-35-9, 69 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (6-1 L at AZ, 5-3 W at COL, 3-2 W vs FLA)
  • Analysis: Anaheim has played some good hockey as of late, going 6-3-0 in their last nine, but their resurgence has come a day late and a dollar short. The two wins in a 58-day span from Dec. 17 to Feb. 13 will likely keep both Ducks fans and players awake at times over what is sure to be a long offseason in Orange County.
  • Player of the week: Ryan Getzlaf – Goal, 4 assists, +1
  • This week: Wed vs WPG, Fri vs SJ, Sat at LA, Tue at VAN

Calgary Flames (45-21-7, 97 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-1 W vs NYR, 2-1 L at WPG, 4-2 W vs CBJ)
  • Analysis: Although they’re not playing great, consistent hockey at the moment (and goaltending questions still remain), the Flames managed to open up a three-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division with a 2-1-0 week. Calgary hasn’t won a division title since the 2005-06 season – is this their year?
  • Player of the week: Matthew Tkachuk – 3 goals, 3 assists, +7
  • This week: Thu vs OTT, Sat at VAN, Mon vs LA
Matthew Tkachuk
Matthew Tkachuk had a huge week for the Calgary Flames. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Edmonton Oilers (32-34-7, 71 points)

  • Last week: 1-3-0 (6-3 L vs NJ, 3-2 OTW at AZ, 6-3 L at VGK, 7-2 L at STL)
  • Analysis: Last week, we wondered if the Oilers would be able to sustain their hot streak, which resulted in a 7-2-2 record from Feb. 19 to Mar. 11. We got a decisive answer – The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ won just once in four tries last week, and allowed 19 combined goals during their three losses. Ouch.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 2 goals, 5 assists
  • This week: Thu vs CBJ, Sat vs OTT, Tue vs LA

Los Angeles Kings (25-39-8, 58 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (3-1 L vs NSH, 4-3 L vs FLA, 3-2 L vs WPG)
  • Analysis: It’s official – there will be no postseason hockey at the Staples Center this season. In the five seasons following their 2014 Stanley Cup championship, the Kings have missed the playoffs three times and have exactly one playoff victory. Is it time to break up the core of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick, and start over?
  • Player of the week: Dustin Brown – 2 goals, assist
  • This week: Thu vs SJ, Sat vs ANA, Mon at CGY, Tue at EDM

San Jose Sharks (43-22-8, 94 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (4-2 L vs FLA, 4-2 L vs NSH, 7-3 L vs VGK)
  • Analysis: San Jose’s hopes of winning the Pacific Division took a bit of a hit last week, as the Sharks lost three straight home games by a combined score of 15-7 and fell three points behind the Flames as a result. Their Pacific Division fate is no longer in their hands – they’ll need some help from Calgary to win the division and avoid a first-round meeting with Vegas.
  • Player of the week: Joe Thornton – 2 goals, +2
  • This week: Thu at LA, Fri at ANA, Mon vs DET
San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones
Martin Jones needs to get his game straightened out before the playoffs start, or it could mean an early exit for San Jose. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Vancouver Canucks (31-32-10, 72 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-1 (4-1 W vs NYR, 3-2 SOL vs NJ, 3-2 SOW at DAL, 3-2 OTW at CHI)
  • Analysis: For the first time since Jan. 18 and Jan. 20, the Canucks have won two consecutive games! The mini hot streak has come too late to help Vancouver qualify for the postseason, but they can continue to play spoiler down the stretch as they play out the string.
  • Player of the week: Jacob Markstrom – 2-0-1 record, 96 saves on 101 shots (.950 SV%, 1.58 GAA), 1 assist
  • This week: Wed vs OTT, Sat vs CGY, Sun vs CBJ, Tue vs ANA

Vegas Golden Knights (41-27-5, 87 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (2-1 W at DAL, 6-3 W vs EDM, 7-3 W at SJ)
  • Analysis: The Coyotes briefly climbed to within four points of the Golden Knights in the Pacific, but Vegas erased all doubts relating to their hold on the No. 3 spot in the division by rattling off three straight wins last week. Since the Mark Stone trade, the Knights are 9-1-0 – they probably won’t catch the Sharks or Flames in the Pacific, but they’re looking like a much scarier first-round opponent now than they did 10 games ago.
  • Player of the week: Jonathan Marchessault – 4 goals, 2 assists, +3
  • This week: Thu vs WPG, Sat vs DET, Mon at STL

Wild-Card Roundup

The Coyotes, at 36-31-6 (78 points, 32 ROW), continue to occupy the No. 8 position in the Western Conference, but they have multiple teams right on their tails:

Dallas Stars (38-29-6, 82 points, 38 ROW, 7th in West)

  • Last week: 2-1-1 (4-1 W at MIN, 2-1 L vs VGK, 3-2 SOL vs VAN, 4-2 W vs FLA)
  • Analysis: The Stars have given themselves a nice cushion over the rest of the Western Conference with a 7-2-1 record over their last 10 games, but they’re far from out of the woods – they’ll need to finish strong to hang onto that No. 1 wild-card position.
  • Player of the week: Alexander Radulov – 3 goals, 2 assists, +7, 20 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs COL, Sat vs PIT, Mon at WPG
Dallas Stars Jamie Benn
The Stars’ offense is firing on all cylinders at the moment. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Minnesota Wild (34-31-9, 77 points, 33 ROW, 9th in West)

  • Last week: 1-2-1 (4-1 L vs DAL, 5-2 W vs NYR, 3-2 OTL vs NYI, 3-1 L vs COL)
  • Analysis: There may not be a team in the NHL more frustrating than the Minnesota Wild right now. They’re still right on the cusp of a playoff spot, but, based on their play over the last few games, they look absolutely nothing like a playoff team. Since a 6-0-2 stretch from Feb. 21 to March 7, the Wild are 1-4-1, and must play five of their final eight games on the road.
  • Player of the week: Ryan Donato – 2 goals, 2 assists, 16 SOG
  • This week: Fri at WSH, Sat at CAR, Mon vs NSH

Colorado Avalanche (32-29-12, 31 ROW, 76 points, 10th in West)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-3 L vs ANA, 3-0 W vs NJ, 3-1 W at MIN)
  • Analysis: Don’t look now, but, after two consecutive victories to close out the week, the Colorado Avalanche are just two points out of a playoff spot. They’re still without captain Gabriel Landeskog as he recovers from an injury, but the Avs are hanging around well enough without him.
  • Player of the week: Tyson Barrie – 3 goals, assist, +2
  • This week: Thu at DAL, Sat vs CHI, Sun at CHI

Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-10, 30 ROW, 74 points, 11th in West)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (5-4 W at TOR, 2-0 W at MTL, 3-2 OTL vs VAN)
  • Analysis: The Blackhawks, who have earned points in their last six games (5-0-1), have quickly climbed back into playoff contention in the West after sitting at three games below .500 just 17 days ago. They have a tough remaining schedule, with only one game coming against a non-playoff contender – can Chicago pull off the impossible and qualify for the playoffs after a 10-19-6 start?
  • Player of the week: Brendan Perlini – 2 goals, 2 assists, +1
  • This week: Thu vs PHI, Sat at COL, Sun vs COL, Tue at AZ