As the Arizona Coyotes approach their final six games of the season, hope is pretty much all but over. The team currently sits in fifth place with a mark of 21-24-5 for 47 points and is five points behind the recently red hot St. Louis Blues, who are on a four-game winning streak. With the team struggling in all areas and guys taking the blame, it’s time for Arizona to just finish out the season strong and look at the positives in preparation for next season.
What Went Wrong?
After starting the season at 19-16-5 and sitting comfortably in fourth place, the Coyotes have looked uncoordinated and sloppy, resulting in a 2-8-0 record in their last 10 games, which has seen the Blues surpass them. Poor play from goalie Darcy Kuemper, who has looked less than stellar since his return from an injury that sidelined him for 18 games, and a lack of scoring and defending has seen Arizona fall behind early in games and never recover. Add in a lack of leadership from both captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the coaching staff, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In their last five games, the Coyotes have been outscored 23-13, with their best performance in those five coming in a 4-0 win over Los Angeles on April 24. Just six games are remaining, with two coming tonight and tomorrow against the Vegas Golden Knights and two more against the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks; it’s likely the Coyotes pull out two, maybe three more wins at best. Even if Arizona finds a way to win four or five games, St. Louis is too hot right now and playing like a playoff team. In addition, they have three games in hand on Arizona.
As much as fans would like to see the Coyotes return to the playoffs, realistically, Arizona doesn’t stack up to the competition above them. In 22 games against the top three teams in the division, the Coyotes are 4-17-1. If the team made the playoffs, you’re looking at either one win or a sweep against whoever they play. St. Louis is much better suited to play any of the three and would provide a much more interesting series.
Positives to Look At
Despite a poor performance in the last half of the season, there are still positives to look at from this season. Players like Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel took leaps. Conor Garland had continued to look good until going down with an injury. Defensemen Jakob Chychrun has also had a heck of a season with 16 goals, the most by any defensemen this season so far and a potential Norris candidate. Fellow defensemen Alex Goligoski, who had a poor start to the season, has really been on a tear lately as well and could potentially be re-signed this offseason by general manager Bill Armstrong.
The emergence of rookies Michael Bunting and Lane Pederson has been a welcomed sight for the team, along with the extended play from goalie Adin Hill, who’s proved he can be an NHL regular next season. The team will look towards these guys to take the next step and continue to improve their play as the team has quite a list of players who will be RFA’s at season’s end.
While there are still six games remaining, and the Coyotes haven’t mathematically been eliminated from playoff contention just yet, it’s safe to assume that with St. Louis playing lights out right now that it’s only a matter of days now before Arizona is eliminated. While this isn’t what fans want to hear, St. Louis is a realistic playoff team and has been showing it as of late.
The most disheartening and concerning thing that has come from the team recently is both head coach Rick Tocchet’s and captain Ekman-Larsson’s comments about the recent team play. There’s a good chance both could be gone this offseason, as Tocchet’s system doesn’t seem to be working well for a lot of players, and Ekman-Larsson has taken a drastic decline in play over the past two seasons.
When the head coach and captain of your team, who are both leaders, blame themselves for losing and not knowing what to do to fix it, that’s a major concern for the team. The Coyotes will have a lot of questions this offseason and decisions to make. With the team moving back to the Central Division next season for the first time since the 1997-98 season, the competition is only going to get tougher. Unless the Coyotes make some serious moves and changes to be more competitive and more like a playoff team, the team will be in for a rough ride next season.