Coyotes Weekly: Back to Work After the Break

At around this time last season, the Arizona Coyotes began one of the better second-half runs in the entire NHL – they went 17-9-3 over their final 29 games to finish with a respectable point total of 70 after a 0-10-1 start to the year.

Now, in 2018-19, the Coyotes enter the second half with a legitimate chance to qualify for the postseason. With 32 games remaining, they’ll likely need another second-half surge to end a six-year playoff drought. If they finish the rest of the schedule with the same points percentage as they did down the stretch last season (.638), they’d finish at 92 points, giving them a 95.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats.

Remarkably, the Coyotes have managed to get this far despite being hammered by long-term injuries to multiple key players. As the team gets healthier, can they sustain their momentum, get a much-needed boost from returning players, and reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2012?

Coyotes Week in Review

With the All-Star Break approaching, the Coyotes played just once last week – a road tilt in Montreal against the Canadiens. This one was a highly-anticipated matchup in Quebec, as it marked Alex Galchenyuk’s first game at the Bell Centre since he was traded over the offseason. Also of significance was Max Domi playing his second-ever game against his former team.

Canadiens Goalie Carey Price
Carey Price was outstanding against the Coyotes at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night. (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

As it turned out, neither player had much of an impact on the game, as Jonathan Drouin and Conor Garland traded goals in the first two periods, before Mike Reilly gave Montreal the lead just 4:48 into the third frame. Carey Price took it from there – he stopped 30 of the 31 Arizona shots he saw on the night and improved his career record against the Coyotes to 11-1-0 in the Canadiens’ 2-1 victory.

A Look Ahead

After a nine-day break from game action, during which Clayton Keller participated in the weekend’s All-Star festivities, the Coyotes will get back to work on Saturday night at the SAP Center with a matchup against the San Jose Sharks. The ‘Yotes and Sharks hooked up in Glendale back on Jan. 16, when the Coyotes earned a 6-3 victory after scoring two late empty-netters. Arizona also picked up a 4-3 win in a shootout in their last visit to Northern California on Dec. 23 – will the Coyotes be able to pick up a third consecutive victory over their division rivals? Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 P.M local time in Silicon Valley (8:30 P.M. in Arizona).

San Jose Sharks Martin Jones
Martin Jones has not played well as of late – can the Coyotes take advantage? (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

The Coyotes will then travel to Dallas and will continue their road trip with a Monday evening tilt against Jamie Benn and the Stars. It’s been a struggle for Dallas as of late – they’ve scored two goals or fewer four of their last five games, and they have a 1-4-0 record over that span as a result. This is a fragile group – can the Coyotes go into the American Airlines Center and steal a victory in their final visit of the season? Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. Central Time (6:30 P.M. in Arizona).

Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery
Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery has his hands full as he tries to guide his team to the Stanley Cup playoffs (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

From there, Arizona will travel to Nashville to take on the Predators on Tuesday night in the second half of a back-to-back. After picking up 2-1 and 3-0 wins over the Predators earlier this season, the Coyotes will be looking to complete the season sweep over a potential first-round playoff opponent in this one, which will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in the Music City (6:00 P.M in Arizona).

Coyotes Trying to Get Healthy

We’ve talked about it before, but it’s worth bringing up again – the fact that the Coyotes are still hanging around in the playoff race despite injuries to their starting goaltender (Antti Raanta), a top-four defenseman (Jason Demers), two top-nine centers (Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz), and their two top penalty killers (Brad Richardson and Michael Grabner), is pretty astonishing.

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta
The Coyotes have managed to stay alive in the playoff picture even without starting goaltender Antti Raanta. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Well, now that the team has had some time off, there’s hope that a few of these players will return to the lineup for the second-half playoff push. Richardson and Grabner, in particular, seem to be close to returning. Not only have they been responsible for seven of the team’s 12 shorthanded goals, Richardson is also tied with Christian Fischer and Clayton Keller for the team lead in goals despite playing 10 fewer games, while Grabner recorded six goals in 25 games (nearly a 20-goal pace over 82 games) before suffering an eye injury against the St. Louis Blues back on Dec. 1.

Michael Grabner Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have sorely missed Michael Grabner’s speed and penalty-killing prowess. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The news isn’t as great for Raanta and Schmaltz, who both figure to miss the rest of the season. There’s cautious optimism that Dvorak could return from his torn pectoral muscle at some point, and, despite reports that Demers’ knee injury was a season-ender when he went down back on Nov. 15, there’s a small chance he could be back on the ice as well.

Either way, even if the Coyotes only get a third of these six injured players back, it would provide a huge boost to a team that’s already been on a roll in the month of January.

Pacific Division Roundup

As we start the second half of the season, the Calgary Flames are firmly entrenched as the Pacific’s No. 1 team. However, every team in the division except the Los Angeles Kings is either in the playoffs or within three points of a spot, so it figures to be a highly entertaining final few months out West.

Anaheim Ducks (21-21-9, 51 points)

  • Last week: 0-1-0 (5-1 L vs STL)
  • Analysis: After snapping their 12-game losing streak with two consecutive road wins on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19, the Ducks lost their next two and sat at .500 at the All-Star Break after holding a record of 19-11-5 on Dec. 17. Ouch. John Gibson carried this team during the early part of the season, but he seems to be running out of gas – he’s posted a sub-.905 SV% in seven of his last 14 games (50%) after posting nine such games in his first 28 contests (32.1%).
  • Player of the week: Daniel Sprong – Goal
  • This week: Sat at WPG, Mon at TOR, Tue at MTL

Calgary Flames (33-13-5, 71 points)

  • Last week: BYE
  • Analysis: The Flames were off last week, but Johnny Gaudreau had a busy week at the All-Star Game in San Jose. Johnny Hockey won the Gatorade NHL Puck Control event on Friday night with a time of 27.045 seconds, and scored a goal in Saturday’s matchup between the Pacific and Central Divisions. The rest of the team got a much-needed breather and should be ready to resume their push for the West’s No. 1 overall seed when the second half begins.
  • Player of the week: Johnny Gaudreau – Goal, won Gatorade NHL Puck Control event
  • This week: Fri at WSH, Sun at CAR
Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau
Johnny Gaudreau has emerged as a Hart Trophy candidate in Calgary. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Edmonton Oilers (23-24-3, 49 points)

  • Last week: BYE
  • Analysis: Great news! The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ didn’t lose last week. Bad news – they didn’t win, either. The Oilers, other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who both won events at the All-Star Skills Contest in San Jose, were off. Even with all of the recent turmoil in Edmonton, the Oil are still only three points out of a playoff spot. Can they make it? Sure they can. Will they be able to string together enough solid performances to pass five other teams? Who knows?
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – winners of the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater and Enterprise NHL Premier Passer events, respectively
  • This week: Sat at PHI, Sun at MTL, Tue vs CHI

Los Angeles Kings (20-26-4, 44 points)

  • Last week: BYE
  • Analysis: The Kings officially declared themselves open for business last week, as they made the first major trade of Deadline Season by sending defenseman Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs. With his team at the bottom of the Western Conference, it’s likely that general manager Rob Blake isn’t done making moves – who will be the next player to be shipped out of town?
  • Player of the week: Drew Doughty – 6:13 TOI in All-Star Game
  • This week: Sat at NYI, Mon at NYR, Tue at NJ
Jake Muzzin
Jake Muzzin was the first major domino to fall as the 2019 Trade Deadline draws near. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

San Jose Sharks (29-16-7, 65 points)

  • Last week: BYE
  • Analysis: Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Erik Karlsson all represented the Sharks in what was an outstanding All-Star Weekend in San Jose. While all three recorded multi-point nights in Saturday’s All-Star Game, it was Karlsson who stole the show, as he nearly brought the house down with a hat trick. Despite the Pacific Division’s loss, it was still a highly entertaining affair as the three Sharks skated with each other early and often in 3-on-3 play.
  • Player of the week: Erik Karlsson – 2 goals, 5 shots, 7:09 TOI in All-Star Game
  • This week: Sat vs AZ, Tue at WPG

Vancouver Canucks (23-22-6, 52 points)

  • Last week: 0-1-0 (5-2 L vs CAR)
  • Analysis: The Canucks played just once last week, and dropped their final game before the All-Star Break to the Carolina Hurricanes in blowout fashion. Despite the loss, though, Vancouver still remains tied for a playoff spot as we begin the second half. Can they hang around and remain in contention until April, or will they falter down the stretch as they did last season, when they went 4-15-3 from Feb. 3 through Mar. 20?
  • Player of the week: Josh Leivo – Goal, +1, 2 shots
  • This week: Sat at COL, Mon at PHI, Tue at WSH

Vegas Golden Knights (29-19-4, 62 points)

  • Last week: 0-1-0 (2-1 L vs NSH)
  • Analysis: Since winning seven straight games from Dec. 27 to Jan. 8, the Golden Knights have fallen into a bit of a slump, as they’re just 2-4-0 in their last six. Vegas needs to figure it out in a hurry or they’ll be left in the dust by the Sharks and Flames, who continue to race up the standings.
  • Player of the week: Marc-Andre Fleury – 0-1-0 record, 25 saves on 27 shots (.926 SV%, 2.09 GAA), 6 saves on 9 shots (.667 SV%) at All-Star Game
  • This week: Fri at CAR, Sat at FLA, Tue at TB