Coyotes Weekly: Still Scratchin’ and Clawin’

With 12 games left to play, the Arizona Coyotes woke up this morning in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. Despite all of their injuries – they lead the NHL in man-games lost – this team has hung around (or scratched and clawed, if you will) and has emerged as a threat to not only qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but to also make some noise once they’re there.

Coyotes Week in Review

After a tough night against the Anaheim Ducks back on Mar. 5, the Coyotes got back to work against Mike Smith and the Calgary Flames on Thursday at Gila River Arena. Arizona hadn’t really been competitive against Calgary during the previous three meetings between the teams this season – the ‘Yotes were outscored 18-4 in their three regulation losses to the Flames, which all featured Smith manning the Calgary net. Smith again played well on Thursday against his former team, but Coyotes’ netminder Darcy Kuemper was better. He received two goals of support from Jakob Chychrun and Clayton Keller, and it’s all he would need on the night as he turned aside all 30 Calgary attempts on goal to earn his third shutout of the season in the 2-0 victory.

Arizona Coyotes Darcy Kuemper Niklas Hjalmarsson
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper celebrates with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With the Los Angeles Kings in town, we then saw a Saturday night rivalry game at Gila River Arena in the finale of Arizona’s seven-game homestand. The Kings have struggled badly this year, and the Coyotes made sure to add to their suffering early on in the game – Christian Dvorak and Michael Grabner scored power play and shorthanded goals, respectively, just 2:07 apart in the opening period to give Arizona an early lead. Los Angeles bounced back, though, as Adrian Kempe and Carl Grundstrom scored the next two goals to bring the game to a 2-2 deadlock. However, Arizona quickly jumped back in front on another goal from Dvorak, and Grabner iced the game with his second of the night to give the Coyotes a 4-2 victory.

Michael Grabner Arizona Coyotes
Michael Grabner has two goals since returning from a long layoff due to injury. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

With their 6-1-0 homestand in the books, the Coyotes headed out on the road and began a short two-day roadie with a visit to the United Center. It was the Coyotes’ first meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks since the Brendan Perlini/Dylan Strome/Nick Schmaltz trade, and the two former Coyotes wasted no time in burning their former team. Perlini scored Chicago’s first goal of the game to tie things up at one apiece shortly after former Blackhawk Richard Panik gave Arizona the lead, and the Hawks quickly turned it on from there. Perlini added two more goals on the night to complete the hat trick, and Strome added an assist as Chicago cruised to a 7-1 victory on home ice.

Chicago Blackhawks Brendan Perlini
Brendan Perlini burned his former team on Monday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Needing to quickly flush the previous night’s performance, the Coyotes were back on the ice on Tuesday in St. Louis with their final meeting of the season with the Blues. St. Louis previously shut out Arizona 4-0 back on Valentine’s Day in what was a listless performance by the Coyotes, but this one went much differently. 24 hours after letting in four goals on 16 shots, Kuemper was absolutely outstanding in this one – he held St. Louis off of the scoreboard for the game’s first 58:49 and stopped 39 of the 40 shots thrown his way to pick up his 23rd win of the season, and 18th victory since the start of 2019.

A Look Ahead

After earning a split on their short two-game roadie, the Coyotes will return home and will begin a two-game homestand on Thursday evening when they host the Ducks. Arizona undoubtedly be looking to exact a bit of revenge upon their division rivals in this one – the Coyotes suffered a bad 3-1 loss at the hands of Anaheim at Gila River Arena back on Mar. 5, and another loss to the 27th-place Ducks, in regulation or otherwise, would be particularly damaging to the Desert Dogs’ playoff hopes. Puck drop in this must-win affair will be at 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.

Another Pacific Division foe will come to Gila River Arena on Saturday night, this time in the form of the Edmonton Oilers. Ken Hitchcock’s group probably won’t make the playoffs, but the Coyotes will still need to slow down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who each collected six points in three games last week. Arizona needs to win games against non-playoff teams at this time of year in order to keep a hold of their playoff spot – they can’t lose this one. It’s scheduled to get started at 6:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

McDavid Draisaitl
The Coyotes must slow down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Saturday. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes will then go on their last big roadie of the season, starting on Monday in Tampa Bay. The Lightning have been the league’s best team this season, but the Coyotes are one of the few teams in the league that have dealt Tampa a regulation loss this season – Arizona lit the lamp seven times on Oct. 27 against the Bolts while only surrendering a single goal to the league’s most potent offensive team. They probably won’t score seven goals again, but they’ll need another superb defensive performance at Amalie Arena in order to gain points from this contest. Puck drop will occur at 7:30 P.M. local time in Tampa (4:30 P.M. in Arizona).

Pacific Division Roundup

With less than a month remaining in the 2018-19 NHL regular season, not much has been settled in the Pacific Division. We know who the three playoff teams will be, but the seeding and division champion? That could come down to the final day of the season.

Anaheim Ducks (28-34-9, 65 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (5-4 L vs STL, 8-2 W vs MTL, 3-2 L vs LA, 3-2 W vs NSH)
  • Analysis: The Ducks have won four of their last six games. Before this stretch, they had five victories in their previous 30 tries. Hockey continues to make absolutely no sense.
  • Player of the week: Troy Terry – Goal, 5 assists, +2
  • This week: Thu at AZ, Fri at COL, Sun vs FLA

Calgary Flames (43-20-7, 93 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (2-1 L at VGK, 2-0 L at AZ, 6-3 W vs VGK, 9-4 W vs NJ)
  • Analysis: Continuing in our theme of “hockey makes absolutely no sense,” let’s talk about the Calgary Flames. They scored just a single goal on their two-game desert roadie against Vegas and Arizona, then scored 15 goals in two games upon returning home to the Saddledome. Who needs consistency?
  • Player of the week: Johnny Gaudreau – 3 goals, 3 assists (all in one game vs NJ)
  • This week: Fri vs NYR, Sat at WPG, Tue vs CBJ
Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny Gaudreau thrilled the crowd on Tuesday in Calgary with a six-point night. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Edmonton Oilers (31-31-7, 69 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (3-2 W vs VAN, 3-2 L vs TOR, 3-2 OTW vs NYR)
  • Analysis: Don’t look now, but The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ is 7-2-2 in its last 11 games and is within shouting distance of a playoff spot. However, a tough three-games-in-four-nights roadie looms on the horizon – this is an area where the wheels have traditionally fallen off for the Oilers. Can they turn over a new leaf and stay in the playoff conversation this week, or will they be eliminated?
  • Players of the week: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid – Goal, 5 assists each, 25 combined SOG
  • This week: Wed vs NJ, Sat at AZ, Sun at VGK, Tue at STL

Los Angeles Kings (25-36-8, 58 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (4-0 L vs STL, 4-2 L at AZ, 3-2 W at ANA)
  • Analysis: It was another long week for the Kings, but a rivalry game victory over the Ducks at the Honda Center on Sunday was a bright spot in what has been a lost season in Los Angeles. The Ducks and Kings don’t have much to play for at this point, but the two teams will meet twice more in the final 14 games – things will definitely be heating up in SoCal down the stretch.
  • Player of the week: Carl Grundstrom – Scored goal in first two NHL games
  • This week: Thu vs NSH, Sat vs FLA, Mon vs WPG

San Jose Sharks (43-19-8, 94 points)

  • Last week: 4-0-0 (5-2 W vs MTL, 3-2 OTW vs STL, 3-0 W at MIN, 5-4 W at WPG)
  • Analysis: The Sharks continued their winning ways last week, as they extended their win streak to six with two victories at home and two more on the road. It’s their third six-game (or longer) winning streak in 2019 so far – not too shabby.
  • Player of the week: Timo Meier – 3 goals, 2 assists, +3, 17 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs FLA, Sat vs NSH, Mon vs VGK
Timo Meier - Sharks
Timo Meier is on pace to score 31 goals this season – a career high. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vancouver Canucks (28-32-9, 65 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-2 OTW vs TOR, 3-2 L at EDM, 6-2 L vs VGK)
  • Analysis: The Canucks picked up a nice OT victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday at Rogers Arena, but then dropped the next two to fall to four games below the .500 mark. Vancouver has now gone on a two-game or longer losing streak after each of their last five victories – not quite the best way to build upon wins in the NHL.
  • Player of the week: Brock Boeser – Goal, 3 assists, 11 SOG
  • This week: Wed vs NYR, Fri vs NJ, Sun at DAL, Mon at CHI

Vegas Golden Knights (38-27-5, 81 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (2-1 W vs CGY, 6-2 W at VAN, 6-3 L at CGY)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights extended their win streak to six last week on Saturday night in Vancouver, but a 6-3 loss to the Flames at the Saddledome put a bit of a damper on things. The Flames are a potential first-round opponent for Vegas, and they might have to play in the Saddledome four times if they wish to advance out of the opening round. The Knights have won both meetings between the teams in Sin City, but they’ve lost both games in the Stampede City by a combined score of 13-5 this year. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on as the playoff seedings and first-round matchups begin to materialize.
  • Player of the week: Marc-Andre Fleury – 2-0-0 record, 62 saves on 65 shots (.954 SV%, 1.50 GAA)
  • This week: Fri at DAL, Sun vs EDM, Mon at SJ

Wild-Card Roundup

The Coyotes, at 35-30-5 (75 points, 31 ROW), currently are occupying the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. By no means are they in the clear, though – here’s a look at the teams who they’ll be attempting to ward off as the season winds down:

Dallas Stars (36-28-5, 77 points, 36 ROW, 7th in West)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-0 W vs COL, 2-1 L vs CHI, 2-0 W at BUF)
  • Analysis: The Stars have done just enough over the past few weeks to hold off the Minnesota Wild in the Central, and they’ve also gained ground on the Blues as well. They’re only two points back of St. Louis in the division standings – you can bet that Dallas will push hard to try and avoid a potential first-round matchup with a division winner.
  • Player of the week: Ben Bishop – 2 starts, 2 shutouts, 66 saves
  • This week: Thu at MIN, Fri vs VGK, Sun vs VAN, Tue vs FLA
Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop
Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop has been outstanding over his past few games. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Minnesota Wild (33-29-8, 74 points, 32 ROW, 9th in West)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-0 W at TB, 6-2 L at FLA, 3-0 L vs SJ)
  • Analysis: After winning five straight from Feb. 21 to March 2, the Wild have suddenly lost four of their last five, going 1-2-2 over that span. They weren’t even competitive in their two most recent losses to Florida and San Jose – can they right the ship before it’s too late? With one of the league’s toughest remaining schedules, it won’t be easy.
  • Player of the week: J.T. Brown – Goal, assist, +2
  • This week: Thu vs DAL, Sat vs NYR, Sun vs NYI, Tue vs COL

Colorado Avalanche (30-28-12, 29 ROW, 72 points, 10th in West)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (4-0 L at DAL, 3-0 W vs BUF, 3-0 L vs CAR)
  • Analysis: All three of Colorado’s games last week ended in shutout fashion, but, unfortunately for the Avalanche, they ended up on the winning side of only one of them. The Avs have now lost four of their last six, and they lost captain Gabriel Landeskog to an upper-body injury for potentially the rest of the season as well. Not ideal.
  • Player of the week: Philipp Grubauer – 1-1-0 record, 51 saves on 53 shots (.962 SV%, 0.97 GAA), 1 shutout
  • This week: Fri vs ANA, Sun vs NJ, Tue at MIN