Playing meaningful hockey games in the second half of the season is something that every team in the National Hockey League strives to do.
It means you’re a playoff team that’s battling for a better seeding position, or you’re a team that’s fighting tooth and nail to sneak into one of the last few playoff spots.
Over the past few seasons, for one reason or another, the Arizona Coyotes were never one of these teams.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Coyotes last appeared in the postseason, and it’s been five seasons since Arizona seriously contended for a playoff spot down the stretch.
Go ahead and toss all of that history aside – despite leading the league in man-games lost, the Coyotes sit just one point out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with 22 games to play, and are right on the cusp of ending that playoff drought, spanning to their last appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs back in 2012.
Grab onto something, Coyotes fans. It’s going to be a wild month-and-a-half.
Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Coyotes Week in Review
After a huge road victory against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 12, the ‘Yotes returned home to host the St. Louis Blues in the first game of a two-game homestand on Thursday evening. The Blues, winners of seven consecutive games, entered as the league’s hottest team, and they kept on rolling at Gila River Arena. St. Louis took the lead just 3:33 in and it seemed like the Coyotes never had a chance after that, as they were held scoreless by Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington on 24 shots as St. Louis cruised to an easy 4-0 victory in Glendale.
Fresh off of a listless performance on Thursday, the Coyotes hosted Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and the dangerous Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Gila River Arena. The Leafs picked up a huge 6-3 win in Vegas in their previous game, and it appeared as if they might have partied too hard in Sin City after the game, as they looked to be off of their game all evening long in Glendale. 32 minutes in, the Leafs had just five shots on goal, while the Coyotes had already put two pucks past goaltender Frederik Andersen. Toronto picked up the pace in the final half of the game, finishing with 22 SOG, but they were unable to solve Darcy Kuemper, who sent away every puck thrown his direction to earn his second shutout of the season by a score of 2-0.
With a win over Toronto in the bank, the Coyotes headed out for their second Western Canada road trip in as many months, starting on Monday afternoon in Calgary against the Flames. Facing Mike Smith for the third time of the season, the Coyotes did not fare any better on this occasion than they did in either their first two attempts, as Smith made 27 saves on 29 shots to earn his third win of the year against his former team by a 5-2 margin.
The Coyotes then made the short trip up the Queen Elizabeth II Highway to Edmonton for a Tuesday night matchup against the Oilers at Rogers Place. With Connor McDavid out of the lineup due to an illness, the Oilers struggled badly all evening to generate offense, but so did the Coyotes, as Edmonton played a hard, physical, defensive game to make up for the loss of their superstar. A Vinnie Hinostroza goal midway through the third period appeared as if it would be the game-winner for Arizona, but the Oilers scored with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to a 3-on-3 overtime period.
During the extra frame, the Oilers absolutely dominated the play – they outshot the Coyotes 7-2 during the five minutes, but they were unable to beat Kuemper, and the game headed to a shootout. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton’s second shooter, scored on Kuemper to give the Oilers the lead in the skills contest, but Alex Galchenyuk quickly tied things up on the next shot before Vinnie Hinostroza scored this beauty in Round No. 4 to give Arizona the 3-2 victory:
A Look Ahead
After their thrilling victory in Edmonton, the Coyotes will make the trip westward to British Columbia for their second and final visit of the season to Vancouver on Thursday night. The ‘Yotes last visited Rogers Arena on Jan. 10, when they picked up a 4-3 victory in overtime, with Richard Panik providing the game-winner. Overall, Arizona is currently riding a five-game point streak against Vancouver, with the lone overtime defeat coming in the Sedin twins’ final home game on Apr. 5. They’ll look to climb closer to a playoff spot in this one, which will get started at 8:00 P.M. local time (7:00 P.M. in Arizona) in Vancity.
The Coyotes will then return home and will kick off a seven-game homestand on Sunday evening when the Winnipeg Jets come to town. The night should be an emotional one in Glendale, as the Coyotes will honor Captain Coyote, Shane Doan, in an hour-long ceremony prior to puck drop, during which they’ll raise The Captain’s number up to the rafters of Gila River Arena. The franchise has six “honored numbers” (Keith Tkachuk, Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Teppo Numminen, and Jeremy Roenick), but Doan’s will be the first to be officially retired and never worn again. It’s going to be a great night out at the rink – the gates open at 4:00 P.M., the retirement ceremony will begin at 5:00, and puck drop will occur at 7:00. If you’re a hockey fan living in the Valley, you don’t want to miss this one.
After honoring a legend, the Coyotes will host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday evening. The ‘Cats are a distant nine points out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, but, as of this writing, they’ve won three straight, five of their last seven, and nine of their last 13. The Coyotes will need to show up ready to play in this one – puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.
Pacific Division Roundup
After a brief slide following the All-Star break, the Calgary Flames got back on track and reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the Pacific last week. With the Coyotes now just one point out of the playoffs, it’s officially crunch time – let’s take a look at how the rest of the division fared:
Anaheim Ducks (24-27-9, 57 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (1-0 W vs VAN, 3-0 L vs BOS, 5-2 W vs WSH, 4-0 W at MIN)
- Analysis: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The Ducks, winners of three of their last four, are alive in the Western Conference playoff race once again after winning just two games between Dec. 18 and Feb. 13. It appears as if general manager/head coach/executive vice president Bob Murray may have gotten through to his players in a way that Randy Carlyle couldn’t. With Corey Perry starting to find his game again after missing the first four months of the season, is this a team that could make a run and sneak into a playoff spot after one of the worst two-month stretches in NHL history?
- Player of the week: Jakob Silfverberg – 4 goals, 11 SOG, +1
- This week: Fri at CGY, Sat at EDM, Mon at VAN
Calgary Flames (36-16-7, 79 points)
- Last week: 2-0-1 (3-2 SOL at FLA, 5-4 W at PIT, 5-2 W vs AZ)
- Analysis: The Flames, after losing five of six to start the second half, got back on track last week as they earned points in each of their three games. They’re back in first place in the Pacific with just 23 games to go – can Calgary hold on and earn their first division title since the 2005-06 season?
- Player of the week: Elias Lindholm – Goal, 3 assists, +3
- This week: Wed vs NYI, Fri vs ANA, Sun at OTT, Tue at NYI
Edmonton Oilers (24-29-6, 54 points)
- Last week: 0-3-1 (3-1 L at PIT, 3-1 L at CAR, 5-2 L at NYI, 3-2 SOL vs AZ)
- Analysis: The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ has now lost 11 of their last 12. Turns out, they might not be so inconsistent after all – they’re just plain terrible, despite having two of the league’s best players on the roster. It would come as absolutely no surprise if Edmonton cleaned house over the offseason – something clearly is very broken in Oil Country, and, while firing the whole front office might not fix matters, it literally couldn’t make things any worse.
- Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 3 goals, 2 assists, 17 SOG
- This week: Thu vs NYI, Sat vs ANA, Mon at NSH
Los Angeles Kings (23-30-6, 52 points)
- Last week: 0-2-1 (4-3 SOL vs VAN, 4-2 L vs BOS, 3-2 L vs WSH)
- Analysis: It was fun while it lasted in Los Angeles, but the Kings have fallen back to the bottom of the Western Conference after briefly climbing to within shouting distance of a playoff spot. Late goals were Los Angeles’ kryptonite last week – Adam Gaudette tied the game for Vancouver on Thursday with just 1:38 to go in regulation (the Canucks eventually won in a shootout), and Charlie McAvoy scored with 1:13 remaining on Saturday to give Boston a regulation victory at the Staples Center. Jake Muzzin was already traded to Toronto – will anyone else be changing addresses at the deadline?
- Player of the week: Alec Martinez – Goal, assist, +1
- This week: Thu at NSH, Sat at FLA, Mon at TB, Tue at CAR
San Jose Sharks (35-17-8, 78 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (5-1 L vs WSH, 3-2 W vs VAN, 6-5 OTL vs BOS)
- Analysis: Joe Thornton may have scored the most disappointing hat trick in NHL history on Monday night against the Boston Bruins – not only did the Sharks lose, but he failed to score his fourth of the night to match Tomas Hertl’s feat from 2013. Such a sad night, indeed.
- Player of the week: Joe Thornton – 3 goals, assist, +3
- This week: Thu at PIT, Sat at CBJ, Sun at DET, Tue at BOS
Vancouver Canucks (26-27-7, 59 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (1-0 L at ANA, 4-3 SOW at LA, 3-2 L at SJ)
- Analysis: The Canucks were competitive on the California roadie, as every game was decided by a single goal, but they were able to pick up just a single shootout victory on the trip. Just one point off of the playoff pace, Vancouver will return home for a three-game homestand this week. They’ll need to string together solid performances from here on out, as one win per week isn’t going to get the job done down the stretch.
- Player of the week: Elias Pettersson – Goal, 2 assists, +1, 10 SOG
- This week: Thu vs AZ, Sat vs NYI, Mon vs ANA
Vegas Golden Knights (32-25-4, 68 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (6-3 L vs TOR, 5-1 W vs NSH, 3-0 L at COL)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights’ continued to slide further and further behind the Sharks and Flames last week, as they suffered two three-goal losses to fall to 3-8-0 in their last 11 games. Vegas is the only team in the league which holds a divisional playoff spot in spite of a losing road record – that could be particularly troublesome come April, as the Knights could be forced to play in San Jose or Calgary four times in a seven-game series. Both cities have been tough places to play for visitors in 2018-19 – Gerard Gallant’s squad needs to figure things out in a hurry.
- Player of the week: Malcolm Subban – 1-1-0 record, 64 saves on 68 shots (.941 SV%, 2.02 GAA)
- This week: Wed vs BOS, Fri vs WPG, Tue vs DAL