From all of us at The Hockey Writers, let us be the first to wish you a Happy New Year!
On the ice, the Arizona Coyotes had a bit of a rough time around the holidays – all three of their games came against current non-playoff teams, but Arizona was able to gain just two of six possible points.
To make matters worse, the team lost starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper to a lower-body injury – he’ll reportedly be out for a few weeks as he recovers, leaving Antti Raanta and AHL call-up Adin Hill as Arizona’s goaltending duo going forward.
The loss of Kuemper isn’t great news, but what’s more concerning is Arizona’s continuing inability to win games on home ice. The Coyotes are now 8-9-1 at Gila River Arena, and are one of just five NHL teams that are playing sub-.500 hockey at home this season. The other four clubs? The 31st-place Detroit Red Wings, 30th-place New Jersey Devils, 28th-place San Jose Sharks, and 26th-place Chicago Blackhawks. That’s not company Arizona wants to keep as they try to end their seven-year playoff drought in 2019-20.
The home-ice issue has largely been masked by Arizona’s dominance on the road, but the Coyotes need to start making Gila River Arena a tougher place to play going forward. They’ve hit a bit of a wall since Thanksgiving, with a rather pedestrian 6-6-1 record since Turkey Day. Going on a run at home would help the club break out from this string of .500 hockey they’ve been mired in for around a month now.
Coyotes Week in Review
Following a nice road victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Coyotes headed back to the Valley of the Sun for a one-off home game against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday evening at Gila River Arena.
After 20 minutes, the Coyotes led 1-0, and it looked like we’d get a relatively uneventful game in Glendale. Once the second period began, though, all hell broke loose – 12 goals were scored over the next 40 minutes of play, with Minnesota recording eight of them. Ryan Donato and Marcus Foligno scored within 1:25 of each other to open the scoring for the Wild, but Jakob Chychrun blasted a power-play goal past Devan Dubnyk to level things at two goals apiece. Ryan Hartman and Eric Staal added goals later in the period, though, and the Coyotes trailed 4-2 entering the third frame.
However, Chychrun and fellow defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in the first 3:22 of the period to tie the game at four, but Minnesota again struck for two goals to restore their lead – Brad Hunt scored at 4:22 before Mats Zuccarello scored at 4:57 to make the game 6-4.
Clayton Keller then added another Arizona goal at 5:23 to cut Minnesota’s lead in half, but the Coyotes would get no closer. Ryan Suter scored at 11:16 before Luke Kunin added the empty netter to provide the final goal in an 8-5 Minnesota victory.
In the loss, the Coyotes allowed eight goals in a game for the first time since an 8-3 loss in Tampa Bay on Feb. 23, 2011. The last time an opponent had scored eight goals on Arizona’s home ice before Thursday was when the Nashville Predators did so in an 8-2 victory on Feb. 21, 2004, when Gila River Arena was less than two months old.
Reset the clock on both of those streaks.
After presumably burning the film from the Minnesota game, the Coyotes hit the road and began a three-game trip on Sunday evening in the Motor City against the Detroit Red Wings. This season has been an unmitigated disaster at Little Caesars Arena, as Jeff Blashill’s group entered the game with a dismal 9-25-3 record, and the Coyotes wasted no time in jumping all over an inferior opponent.
Clayton Keller scored twice in the opening period, then assisted on a Carl Soderberg tally just 39 seconds into the second period as the Coyotes rolled to a 5-2 victory over the lowly Red Wings.
From there, the Coyotes traveled to Tennessee for a Monday night matchup against the Nashville Predators. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Arizona got out to a slow start at Bridgestone Arena – the Preds outshot the ‘Yotes 22-5 in the opening period, but stellar goaltending from Raanta got the Coyotes to the locker room with only a one-goal deficit.
The teams would then trade goals in the second and third periods, but the Coyotes were unable to score the equalizer, and Nashville picked up a 3-2 victory in both teams’ final game before Christmas.
The loss to the Predators meant that the Coyotes closed out their pre-Christmas slate on a 10-game streak of alternating wins with losses. Playing .500 hockey for 10-game stretches really isn’t going to get it done – the Coyotes need to be a more consistent team in order to gain some separation in a weak Pacific Division.
A Look Ahead
With the NHL’s Christmas break now in the rearview mirror, the Coyotes will get back to work on Saturday evening in Sin City, where they’ll take on the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Arizona was blown out in their first visit to the Strip on Oct. 10, 2017, in what was the Golden Knights’ inaugural home game, but since then, the ‘Yotes have racked up a nice little point streak in Vegas, with a 3-0-2 record in their last five visits. Puck drop in this showdown between the best two teams in the Pacific Division is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time at “the Fortress” (8:00 P.M. in Arizona).
The Coyotes will then return home and will begin a four-game homestand on Sunday night against the Dallas Stars. So far in 2019-20, the Stars and Coyotes have played a very similar brand of hockey. The teams struggle offensively, as both rank in the bottom-10 of the league in offense.
However, both teams have also been dominant at the defensive end of the ice, and are in playoff position as a result – the Coyotes boast the league’s lowest team goals-against average per game (GA/GP) at 2.49 GA/GP, and the Stars are right behind at 2.50 GA/GP. This one, which should be a low-scoring, defensive, potentially “boring” affair, will get started at 6:00 P.M. in Glendale. Certain Canadian sportswriters might want to avert their gaze.
In what should be a great evening in Glendale, the Coyotes will wrap up the 2019 portion of their schedule on New Year’s Eve with a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
The Blues closed out their pre-Christmas slate on an absolute roll – they won six straight in regulation from Dec. 12 to Dec. 23, and, throughout the season, they have proved that there will be no Stanley Cup hangover in Missouri this year. The Coyotes will have their hands full on this night – the puck will drop at 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.
Pacific Division Roundup
At 46 points through 39 games (a 97-point pace), the Coyotes still lead the Pacific Division by the slimmest of margins – they’re tied with the Vegas Golden Knights in points, but have played one fewer game, and are in first place as a result.
Here’s a look at how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (15-18-4, 34 points)
- Last week: 1-1-0 (6-5 SOW at NYI, 5-1 L at NYR)
- Analysis: The Ducks’ are now 6-12-4 in their last 22, and they haven’t won a game in regulation since Dec. 2. Anaheim isn’t on track to return to the postseason this year, but, if their goal is to have a chance to draft Alexis Lafrenière at No. 1 overall, they’re right on schedule.
- Player of the week: Adam Henrique – Goal, assist
- This week: Fri vs VGK, Sun vs PHI, Tue at VGK
Calgary Flames (19-15-5, 43 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (4-3 OTL vs MTL, 5-1 W at DAL, 3-0 L at MIN)
- Analysis: I think it’s safe to say that the Flames have cooled off – since winning seven straight from Nov. 27 to Dec. 12, Calgary is 1-3-1 and scored one or fewer goals in three of those five games. It sure seems like the boost the team received after former head coach Bill Peters was fired has worn off. Will they recover, or will this be another lost season in Calgary?
- Player of the week: Matthew Tkachuk – 2 goals, 3 assists, 7 SOG
- This week: Fri at EDM, Sun vs VAN, Tue vs CHI
Edmonton Oilers (20-16-4, 44 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (5-2 L vs PIT, 4-3 W vs MTL, 4-2 L at VAN)
- Analysis: Edmonton’s free-fall continued last week – the Oilers lost two of their three games to fall to 2-6-1 in their last nine, and 13-15-5 since Oct. 18. Will this turn out to be a “same Oilers, different year” scenario, or can Edmonton bounce back and save their season?
- Player of the week: Josh Archibald – Goal, 2 assists, +3
- This week: Fri vs CGY, Tue vs NYR
Los Angeles Kings (15-20-4, 34 points)
- Last week: 0-2-1 (3-2 OTL at CBJ, 3-2 L at BUF, 4-1 L vs STL)
- Analysis: Another week = three more losses for the Kings. This team has been competitive most nights as of late, but there just isn’t enough here to win games on a consistent basis. Two Cups in three years make the 2010s a success by default for Los Angeles, but, since winning Cup No. 2 in 2014, the Kings have won exactly one playoff game. In a “what have you done for me lately?” league, the Kings can only answer, “not much.”
- Player of the week: Adrian Kempe – 2 goals, +2
- This week: Fri at SJ, Sat at VAN, Tue vs PHI
San Jose Sharks (16-20-2, 34 points)
- Last week: 0-2-0 (5-2 L vs STL, 3-1 L vs VGK)
- Analysis: Has a team ever fired two head coaches in the same season? If not, the Sharks may become the first club to do so. Since Bob Boughner took over, San Jose owns a 1-4-0 record, with three multi-goal losses in that span. They’re not competitive right now, and general manager Doug Wilson might be a seller at the trade deadline for the first time since taking over in 2003. San Jose’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons with 40 or more wins is in serious jeopardy.
- Player of the week: Brent Burns – Goal, 2 assists, 8 SOG
- This week: Fri vs LA, Sat vs PHI, Tue at DET
Vancouver Canucks (19-15-4, 42 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (5-4 OTW vs VGK, 4-1 W vs PIT, 4-2 W vs EDM)
- Analysis: Well, well, well. Look who got up off of the mat last week. After posting a 7-12-2 record from Nov. 2 through Dec. 17, the Canucks won three straight to climb back into the conversation in the Western Conference. If Vancouver can figure out how to win on the road more often, they have a real shot to get into the playoffs in a relatively weak Pacific Division.
- Player of the week: Jacob Markstrom – 3-0-0 record, 94 saves on 101 shots (.931 SV%, 2.32 GAA)
- This week: Sat vs LA, Sun at CGY
Vegas Golden Knights (20-14-6, 46 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (5-4 OTL at VAN, 3-1 W at SJ, 7-3 L vs COL)
- Analysis: It’s been an up-and-down December for the Golden Knights – they’re 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, but they’re still tied with the Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division thanks to their identical 10-7-3 records both at home and on the road this year.
- Player of the week: Reilly Smith – Goal, 3 assists, +1
- This week: Fri at ANA, Sat vs AZ, Tue vs ANA
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.