Coyotes Fall Flat in Game 1 Despite Kuemper’s Heroics

On Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB, the Arizona Coyotes participated in their first Stanley Cup playoff game since May 22, 2012 – a span of 3,004 days.

Somebody apparently forgot to tell the players that a playoff game was taking place, though, as they sleepwalked their way to a 3-0 shutout defeat in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche. In the loss, the Coyotes struggled to generate chances on a stout Avs defense that was sixth in the NHL in goals against per game in the regular season, finishing with just 14 shots on net.

The Kuemper Show, Episode 5

Despite the poor play occurring in front of him throughout most of the game, Arizona’s goaltender Darcy Kuemper kept it close until the waning minutes, as he stopped the first 31 shots he faced through the first 53 minutes of the afternoon. The Avalanche then scored three times in a span of 1:23, though, and they blew open a game that probably would have been 7-0 or worse without Kuemper’s heroics in net.

Darcy Kuemper Arizona Coyotes
Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kuemper has easily been Arizona’s MVP in the postseason so far, but they need to do a better job of helping out their goaltender. Darcy has now faced 40 or more shots in four of the five playoff games Arizona has played since the restart, and although he’s been extremely good this season and has shown he can handle that kind of workload, you can’t expect that kind of play every night. Routinely relying upon your goaltender to bail you out is not a sustainable long-term strategy.

Burn The Tape

Head coach Rick Tocchet was not a happy camper when asked about his team’s performance following the game:

One can definitely empathize with Tocchet’s thoughts, as this easily was the worst the Coyotes have looked so far during the postseason. The 14 shots on goal tied the season-low for Arizona, as they also had that amount in a 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 20. However, that game came against the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second half of a back-to-back – prior to this series, Arizona had four days off from game action.

The minus-26 shot differential was tied for the second-worst effort of the year, behind the St. Louis loss (minus-32, 46-14) and equal to a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 23, which Arizona won 3-2 despite being outshot 45-19. Aside from the three occurrences this season, the Coyotes have been outshot by 26 or more just six other times in the last 10 years.

The ‘Yotes sure picked a bad time to produce one of the decade’s worst performances.

Rick Tocchet Arizona Coyotes
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The reasons for Arizona’s effort (or lack thereof) on Wednesday remain to be seen. Were they still riding the high of Friday’s emotional overtime series-clincher over the Nashville Predators? Were they intimidated by their postseason opponent, who finished at No. 2 in the Western Conference this season? Or was it just an off game for a team that was prone to such efforts during the regular season (and is why they entered the playoffs as an 11-seed)?

The Coyotes’ best course of action would be to simply flush this game, burn the film, and move on. After the aforementioned St. Louis loss, Arizona bounced back to blow out the Tampa Bay Lightning in their next game by a 7-3 score. They’ve shown that they’re capable of defeating the Avalanche this season, too, doing so back on Nov. 2 via a shutout. The two teams also played an overtime game on Oct. 12.

In 2019-20, Arizona showed it can be competitive against Colorado and can recover quickly from bad performances, but they’ll need to right the ship in a speedy fashion to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole in this series. The Coyotes are already behind the eight-ball, as teams that win Game 1 in a best-of-seven series advance approximately 70 percent of the time, per Hockey-Reference. Teams that go up 2-0 end up sweeping the series 32 percent of the time and win outright in 87 percent of scenarios.

Taylor Hall Arizona Coyotes
Taylor Hall, Arizona Coyotes (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Coyotes’ performance in Game 2 will tell us a lot. If we see more of the same of what we saw on Wednesday, this could be a very, very short series.

What’s Next?

Arizona will have a day to regroup before the next game of this series, which will take place on Friday at 12:00 P.M. local time in Edmonton (11:00 A.M. in Arizona). The game will be televised on NBCSN and the NHL Network in the United States, and Sportsnet in Canada. Viewers in the Valley of the Sun will have to catch the game on Fox Sports Arizona, as the national feed likely will be blacked out.

Keep an eye on Arizona’s lineup in Game 2 – it’s possible that center Nick Schmaltz could return to the lineup after suffering an apparent concussion in the exhibition game against the Vegas Golden Knights on July 30, and other lineup changes could be made as well if Tocchet wants to send a message after the lackluster Game 1. Stay tuned!