Blueprint for Coyotes Success: Make Playoffs, Avoid Avalanche

With just a handful of regular-season games remaining, the Arizona Coyotes are very much alive for a playoff berth. The Coyotes are battling the St. Louis Blues for the fourth and final postseason bid in the West. While those two clubs jockey for that last divisional spot, Arizona will also be keeping a close eye on who captures the division crown.

While the ‘Yotes and Blues are fighting tooth and nail for fourth, the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights are in just as tight of a race for first. If the Coyotes can hold onto fourth, their chances for success in the playoffs could look a lot rosier if Vegas is the one seed. 

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Due to COVID-induced realignment, the playoff format this year will be different than usual. Playoff teams will duke it out in their division before they face any other teams. So, each division will have a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 set-up to start. The winners will then play for division supremacy before moving on to face another division champ. This is basically the way things worked for many years when the Patrick, Adams, Norris, and Smythe Divisions had to be decided first before clubs skated outside of their division in the postseason. In this unique season, this format could very well work to the Coyotes’ advantage.

Rocky Mountain High Scoring

The key is to avoid the Avalanche at all costs. Sure you “shouldn’t fear anyone” and you need to “beat the best,” etc, but let’s face it, Colorado has been a nightmare for the Coyotes this year. The two clubs have met eight times with the Avs posting a lusty 6-1-1 record in those contests. They didn’t just beat the Coyotes, they bludgeoned them. Colorado outscored Arizona 35-19. In one game the Avs scored nine goals. Clearly, Colorado has Arizona’s number.

The Coyotes haven’t exactly been world-beaters against the Golden Knights, either. Vegas skated past the Desert Dogs in five of six meetings. The difference has been the eye test. The Coyotes look like they belong when facing Vegas. Two of the Yotes losses have been by just one goal. They’ve been close. Sure, a playoff match-up with Vegas would still be a daunting task, but you just get the sense that maybe, just maybe Arizona could have a puncher’s chance. A series with Colorado leaves you only feeling punchy.

Coyotes games against Colorado are one-sided. The play from Arizona is sloppy. The shots just aren’t of good quality. At least against Vegas, the shots seem to be better. Even when they don’t find the back of the net, you get the feeling that Arizona’s attack is formidable.  

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While facing Vegas in a hypothetical first-round affair, the Coyotes and their fans would then hope for a Minnesota Wild upset over Colorado. The Avalanche would still be a heavy favorite against the Wild, but at least Minnesota held their own against the mighty Avs this season. The Wild won three out of eight games with Colorado and they were only outscored 31-25.

The NHL has had its share of postseason Cinderellas. From the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings winning it all to other eight seeds taking conference titles, it has been proven that a hot goalie and a little puck luck can go a long way. The difference right now between the Coyotes and Avalanche is just too stark. An Arizona win over Colorado in a seven-game series would be more of a shocker than the upset the Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off in 2019 when they stunned the high-octane Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Playoff Path

Of course, just making the playoffs would be an accomplishment for Rick Tocchet’s bunch. Many prognosticators had the Coyotes pegged as one of the league’s worst teams in the preseason. But a competitor like Tocchet wants to win. If Arizona qualifies for extra hockey, the plan will be to keep going. Their only path to do that is to avoid those Mile High bullies.

Right now, the Coyotes need to focus on making the postseason. They can do it. Their schedule is more favorable than the Blues schedule. The team has heart. Grabbing that No. 4 spot would be a big deal. But if they do indeed punch their playoff ticket, there won’t be much time for celebrating in the wild West.

If the Coyotes can earn a playoff position when the regular season comes to a close, their first-round opponent will be one of the best teams in hockey. (from ‘Colorado Avalanche going all in now for a Stanley Cup,’ Durango Herald, 04/13/2021) To have any chance at all, Arizona needs to roll the dice with Vegas. Otherwise, their season will end under an Avalanche.

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