Monday Morning Howl: A Week of Firsts for Coyotes

It was a week of firsts for the Arizona Coyotes – Dylan Strome scored his first career NHL goal, Scott Wedgewood recorded his first shutout with the franchise, and Jakob Chychrun played in his first NHL game since Apr. 8. As a team, Arizona also finds themselves out of the league’s basement for the first time in quite a while – the ‘Yotes are three points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres after picking up four points in four games last week.

Four Points for Coyotes

Following a tough home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 25, the Coyotes headed back out on the road and began a two-game stint in Alberta on Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. Despite holding a 2-1 lead late in the third period, the ‘Yotes were unable to finish it off, as they lost 3-2 in overtime on a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins breakaway goal.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Oilers
Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the overtime winner against the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 28. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After their loss at Rogers Place, Arizona made the short trip to Calgary for a Thursday night matchup against Mike Smith and the Flames. Wedgewood was outstanding in goal for the Coyotes, as he stopped all but three of the 44 shots he faced, but Smith was a man on a mission for Calgary. The Coyotes threw 28 shots on net but the 35-year-old goaltender turned them all away for his 35th career shutout in a 3-0 Flames victory.

Mike Smith Flames
Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith shut out his former team at the Saddledome on Nov. 30 (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes then returned to Arizona for another Saturday night home game (their seventh of the season) against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils played a tough game in Colorado on Friday night and it showed, as the ‘Yotes jumped all over them early and held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Arizona lit the lamp on three more occasions later in the game, but one goal was all Wedgewood would have needed – he stopped all 27 Devils shots he saw as he backstopped the ‘Yotes to a 5-0 shutout victory on home ice.

Arizona headed up to Sin City following their win over the Devils and wrapped up their week with a Sunday evening affair against the Golden Knights. Like the first matchup between these two teams back on Oct. 7, this one headed to overtime, where Vegas picked up a 3-2 win and improved to 4-0-0 against the Coyotes all-time on a game-winner from Reilly Smith.

Coyotes Heading East (Yet Again)

The Coyotes returned home to Arizona following their heartbreaker of an overtime loss in Vegas on Sunday, but they’ll soon have to make yet another trip to the Eastern Time Zone as they’ll start their week with a Thursday night matchup against the Boston Bruins. The B’s have owned the ‘Yotes in recent years – including a 6-2 Bruins victory at Gila River Arena back on Oct. 14, Arizona has lost nine straight games to Boston in regulation and 11 straight games overall dating back to their last victory on Oct. 9, 2010, during the NHL Premiere series in Prague, Czech Republic. The puck will drop at TD Garden at 7:00 P.M. local time (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Zdeno Chara’s Bruins haven’t lost to the Arizona Coyotes since 2010. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

From there, the Coyotes will head westward to Ohio for a matchup against the Metropolitan Division-leading Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. Rick Tocchet’s squad will have their work cut out for them against Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky – the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is in the midst of another stellar campaign and could very well join the small group of three-time Vezina winners following the season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at Nationwide Arena (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will look to stay hot against the Coyotes on Saturday at Nationwide Arena (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes will then wrap up their road trip with a Sunday night matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. The United Center hasn’t been the friendliest of environments for the ‘Yotes lately – they’ve lost three straight in the Windy City and haven’t picked up a regulation victory in Chicago since Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 23, 2012. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. in Chi-Town (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Strome Breaks Through

It took 12 games for him to achieve, but Dylan Strome’s first career NHL goal was worth the wait.

Strome started the year with the Coyotes but was sent down to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL following two underwhelming games in October. After tearing up the AHL for a month-and-a-half, Strome was recalled on Nov. 26 and began his third stint in the NHL as a winger on Tuesday in Edmonton. Despite high expectations, Strome struggled that night, and on Thursday in Calgary as well, and was moved back to his natural position of center for Saturday’s game against the Devils as a result. The switch immediately paid dividends for head coach Rick Tocchet, as the 20-year-old Strome broke through with this goal on Keith Kinkaid during the third period:

Strome has looked like a different player during this go-around in the NHL, and it’s obvious that the confidence he gained in the AHL has a lot to do with his improved play.

“Since I got called up, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable,” Strome said during his media availability following the game on Saturday. “Obviously the first game is a different level, different pace — the first game back against Edmonton was a little bit of an adjustment period but I think two nights ago against Calgary and tonight I felt very comfortable.”

Look for Strome’s scoring output to continue to increase as he gains confidence and experience in the NHL.

Wedgewood Carrying Coyotes

While there’s nothing like the thrill of scoring your first career NHL goal, shutting out your former team has to come close. And that’s exactly what Coyotes’ goaltender Scott Wedgewood did on Saturday night in Glendale.

Scott Wedgewood Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes goalie Scott Wedgewood (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Since being acquired by the Coyotes on Oct. 28, Wedgewood has turned in some good performances for his new team. He was in goal for Arizona’s first win of the season against the Flyers on Oct. 30 and was the goaltender of record in the Coyotes’ 3-2 overtime victory over the rival Los Angeles Kings on Black Friday.

However, none of his performances were better than the one he turned in against his former team, the New Jersey Devils, on Saturday. Wedgewood was absolutely outstanding in the game – he stopped all 27 shots thrown his way and came up with this huge momentum-shifting stop during the second period:

For the week, Wedgewood stopped 134 of the 143 shots he faced (good for a .937 SV%) and was stellar in every game he played. If he can continue playing at a high level, he’ll continue to receive plenty of work in Arizona even after Antti Raanta returns from his injury.

Chychrun Returns (and Scores)

If there was any doubt that the Coyotes sorely missed having Jakob Chychrun in the lineup, Sunday’s game in Las Vegas served as a reminder of the 19-year-old’s value to the organization.

Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun
Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

In his first NHL action in nearly eight months, Chychrun scored a goal, blocked three shots, and played 22:40 in Arizona’s 3-2 overtime loss in Sin City. It was an impressive season-debut for Chychrun, who had been recovering from offseason knee surgery, and the Coyotes are hopeful that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off last season, when he emerged as one of the better young defensemen in the NHL.

Pacific Division Roundup

We’re about one-third of the way through the 2017-18 NHL season, and the Los Angeles Kings are back in the driver’s seat of the Pacific Division after a dominating week. Here’s how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (11-11-5, 27 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-1 (7-3 L at CHI, 3-2 W at STL, 4-2 L at CBJ, 3-2 SOL at NSH)
  • Analysis: The Ducks continue to struggle – they’re just 1-4-2 over their last seven games and are starting to fall behind the rest of the pack in the Western Conference. Injuries to Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, and others have derailed the season in Anaheim – can the Ducks get healthy in time to make a late-season playoff push as they did last year?
  • Player of the week: Cam Fowler – 2 goals, 2 assists
  • This week: Tue at VGK, Wed vs OTT, Fri vs MIN

Calgary Flames (14-11-1, 29 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (4-1 L vs TOR, 3-0 W vs AZ, 7-5 L vs EDM)
  • Analysis: Mike Smith led the Flames to a big win over the Coyotes on Thursday, but he faltered against the Maple Leafs and Oilers in Calgary’s other games last week. He’ll need to be more consistent moving forward if the Flames wish to stay in the playoff hunt.
  • Player of the week: Sam Bennett – 2 goals, 3 assists, +1
  • This week: Mon vs PHI, Wed at TOR, Thu at MTL, Sat vs VAN

Edmonton Oilers (11-14-2, 24 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (3-2 OTW vs AZ, 6-4 L vs TOR, 7-5 W vs CGY)
  • Analysis: Edmonton nearly blew a five-goal third-period lead in the Battle of Alberta on Saturday night, but they held on and picked up their sixth consecutive victory over the rival Flames. Overall, the Oilers are 4-2-0 in their last six and appear to have straightened things out after a brutal start to the season. Can they keep it going this week?
  • Player of the week: Zack Kassian – 2 goals, 2 assists, +5
  • This week: Wed vs PHI, Sat at MTL, Sun at TOR

Los Angeles Kings (17-8-3, 37 points)

  • Last week: 4-0-0 (4-1 W at DET, 5-2 W at WSH, 4-1 W at STL, 3-1 W at CHI)
  • Analysis: The Los Angeles Kings absolutely dominated last week, as they outscored the opposition 16-5 en route to a perfect 4-0-0 road trip. John Stevens’ squad is back atop the Pacific Division and is just one point behind the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Players of the week: Jonathan Quick & Darcy Kuemper – 4-0-0 combined record, 113 saves on 118 shots (.958 SV%)
  • This week: Tue vs MIN, Thu vs OTT, Sat vs CAR
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

San Jose Sharks (14-9-2, 30 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (3-1 W at PHI, 2-1 W at FLA, 5-2 L at TB)
  • Analysis: Aaron Dell was outstanding for the Sharks last week – he allowed one goal in each of his two starts and led the way in two solid San Jose victories. Martin Jones did struggle on Saturday against the Lightning in his only start, but, to be fair, the Sharks were playing against arguably the most complete team in the NHL on the second night of a back-to-back. Peter Deboer’s squad gets a pass for that one.
  • Player of the week: Aaron Dell – 2-0-0 record, 61 saves on 63 shots (.968 SV%)
  • This week: Mon at WSH, Thu vs CAR, Sat vs OTT, Sun vs MIN

Vancouver Canucks (13-10-4, 30 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-2 L at NYI, 5-3 W at NSH, 2-1 W vs TOR)
  • Analysis: It was a banner week for the Canucks – they picked up big victories over two of the league’s top teams and saw Daniel Sedin become the 87th player in league history to reach the 1,000 point milestone.
  • Players of the week: Daniel Sedin – Goal, 3 assists, 1,000th career NHL point
  • This week: Tue vs CAR, Thu vs PHI, Sat at CGY

Vegas Golden Knights (16-9-1, 33 points)

  • Last week: 1-3-0 (3-0 L vs DAL, 4-2 L at MIN, 7-4 L at WPG, 3-2 OTW vs AZ)
  • Analysis: It was a tough week for the Vegas Golden Knights, but they bounced back from three straight losses with an overtime victory over the Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday. Will the forthcoming return of Marc-Andre Fleury help the team return to playing at an elite level?
  • Players of the week: Jonathan Marchessault – 2 goals, 2 assists, +1
  • This week: Tue vs ANA, Fri at NSH, Sat at DAL

The Coyotes picked up four points last week, and have passed the Buffalo Sabres in the standings as a result of their recent success. Can they continue playing well with three tough road games upcoming this week?