The first quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season is almost in the books and the Arizona Coyotes have been one of the biggest surprises so far. The young talent has kicked the rebuild into overdrive and has kept Arizona near the top of the Pacific Division in the first few weeks.
There have been plenty of positives to start the season for the Coyotes, but there have been some low moments as well. Here is a look at both the highlights and the lowlights for Arizona as they reach the quarter pole of the season.
Plus: Domi and Duclair
The big standouts for the Coyotes have been the one-two punch of rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Both players have lived up to the hype and expectations entering this season with Domi leading all rookies with eight goals and Duclair tied for second with seven.
In addition, both Domi and Duclair have had successful homecomings in Toronto and Montreal, respectively. Domi scored the first goal in Arizona’s 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs on October 26, while Duclair assisted on the opening goal by Martin Hanzal in a 3-2 victory against the Canadiens on Thursday. There were also some light-hearted moments in both games as Domi was pranked by his teammates in warmups in Toronto, while Duclair’s former junior teammates took a selfie with him at the Bell Centre.
Plus: Improved Penalty Kill
Another notable part of Arizona’s game has been their penalty killing. Last season, the Coyotes were a dreadful 76.7% on the penalty kill, one of the worst percentages in the league. This season, Arizona has a more respectable 82.2% kill rate through 19 games, including shutting down Montreal’s fifth-ranked power play on all five opportunities on Thursday. While it is never a good thing to be shorthanded so often in a game, the Coyotes demonstrated that they have improved at successfully overcoming penalties.
Minus: Boston and New York
While the 2015-16 season has mostly been a good one for Arizona, their biggest struggles have been against the teams from New York and Boston. The Coyotes have been outscored 24-7 in five games against the Rangers, Islanders and Bruins this season.
Arizona’s penalty kill has struggled in those games, allowing seven power-play goals in 22 chances. Goaltender Mike Smith appeared in four of the five games and has a 5.00 GAA and a .851 save percentage against the three teams this year. The good news for the Coyotes is that they only have one more game left this season against the Islanders on December 18 at Gila River Arena.
Minus: Vermette’s Struggles
If there has been one player who has not had a good year for the Coyotes, it would be Antoine Vermette. After being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks and winning the Stanley Cup last season, Vermette returned to the desert when free agency began in July.
So far, the veteran center has made little impact on the scoresheet with just two assists, both coming in the game on October 30 against the Vancouver Canucks.
His worst performance came on Monday night in New York when he took three minor penalties against the Islanders, one of which was converted into a power-play goal. While Vermette has been dealing with injury problems that brought an end to his lengthy ironman streak, Arizona needs him to find the scoring touch soon.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.