Monday Morning Howl: Coyotes Compete With West’s Best

On paper, the Arizona Coyotes had a tough week, as they lost two of three on home ice. However, when considering the fact that each of the three teams Arizona faced are fighting for playoff position in the Western Conference, it becomes clear that this team has continued to take steps forward.

Coyotes Competitive Against Top Teams

Following their hard-fought 1-0 shutout victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Mar. 11, the Coyotes opened last week with a matchup against the rival Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday at Gila River Arena. With starting goaltender Antti Raanta on the shelf due to an injury, and with backup netminder Darcy Kuemper under the weather with an illness, the goaltending duties fell to rookie Adin Hill, who was making his first NHL start since Oct. 26. Hill was outstanding in this one – he stopped 34 of the 37 Los Angeles shots he faced in regulation and overtime, and his teammates got him the win in the shootout after the rookie turned away four of five Kings skaters he faced in the skills contest.

Arizona Coyotes goalie Adin Hill
Arizona Coyotes goalie Adin Hill (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes remained at home on Thursday and hosted the hottest team in the league – the Nashville Predators. The Predators were riding a 12-game point streak entering the night (11-0-1), but Arizona surprisingly held a 2-1 lead after two periods. However, the Preds quickly showed why they have to be considered the favorites to repeat as Western Conference champions – they struck for two quick goals in less than five minutes in the third period and goaltender Pekka Rinne shut things down the rest of the way as he led his team to the 3-2 victory in Glendale.

On Saturday, Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild came to town looking to avenge two previous losses in which the Coyotes came from behind to earn victories. Despite Clayton Keller’s 20th goal of the season during the second period, the Wild were indeed able to salvage a game in the season series, as Marcus Foligno scored the game-winner midway through the third period to give his team a 3-1 triumph.

Clayton Keller Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Coyotes Hit the Road

After their loss to the Wild on Saturday, the Coyotes will remain at home and will finish up their five-game homestand on Monday night against Mike Smith and the Calgary Flames. Smith was recovering from a lower-body injury during Calgary’s last visit to Glendale back on Feb. 22, so this will be his first time suiting up as a visitor at Gila River Arena since being traded over the offseason. However, Smith played on Sunday in a 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, so it remains to be seen if he’ll play on back-to-back nights. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.

Mike Smith Flames
Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes will then hit the road and will begin a six-game road trip on Wednesday in Buffalo against Jack Eichel and the Sabres. For the second time in four seasons, it appears as if the ‘Yotes and Sabres will finish as the two worst teams in the NHL, so this one could have major draft lottery implications when all is said and done. Will Sabres fans once again cheer against their team as they did in 2015, when the ‘prize’ for finishing last was either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel? Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in the Queen City (4:00 P.M. in Arizona)

Arizona will then have a chance to play spoiler on Thursday night, when they’ll travel to Carolina for a matchup against the Hurricanes. The ‘Canes made a late run to climb back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve struggled as of late, and one or two more regulation losses might be all it takes to extinguish their postseason hopes. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in Raleigh (4:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Another chance to play spoiler will follow on Saturday, when the Coyotes will travel to the Sunshine State to take on the Florida Panthers. Like Carolina, Florida also has made a run to get back into the playoff race in the East, but the Cats are in much better shape – they’re just five points behind the New Jersey Devils with three games in hand. As of this writing, they control their own playoff destiny, but a loss or two could change everything. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in Sunrise (4:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck
Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Pacific Division Roundup

The Vegas Golden Knights still lead the Pacific Division, but their lead has been trimmed to eight points with 10 games to play. Things could get interesting out West if the Knights’ current slide continues.

Anaheim Ducks (37-24-12, 86 points)

  • Last week: 3-1-0 (4-2 L vs STL, 3-0 W vs VAN, 4-2 W vs DET, 4-2 W vs NJ)
  • Analysis: The Ducks won three times during last week’s four-game homestand, and hold sole possession of the Pacific’s No. 3 playoff spot entering the week as a result. Their dominance at the Pond this season has been well-documented, but they’ll need to be much better on the road, especially when considering that five of their final nine are away from home.
  • Player of the week: John Gibson – 3-1-0 record, 94 saves on 102 shots (.922 SV%), 1 shutout
  • This week: Wed at CGY, Fri at WPG, Sun at EDM
John Gibson Ducks
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks, Oct. 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Calgary Flames (35-28-10, 80 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (1-0 W vs EDM, 7-4 L vs SJ, 4-0 L at VGK)
  • Analysis: The Flames, just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, are fading fast in the Pacific. They’re four points behind the Kings for the final wild-card spot, and have both the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues in front of them. If Glen Gulutzan’s squad is going to qualify for the playoffs, they’ll need to earn it – six of the final nine games are against current playoff teams.
  • Player of the week: Micheal Ferland – Goal, 2 assists
  • This week: Mon at AZ, Wed vs ANA, Sat at SJ

Edmonton Oilers (31-36-5, 67 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-1 (1-0 L at CGY, 4-3 OTL vs SJ, 4-2 W at FLA, 3-1 L at TB)
  • Analysis: The Oilers won just once last week, as Edmonton scored three third-period goals against the desperate Panthers en route to a 4-2 victory. In what has become a lost season, playing spoiler might be the only motivation Todd McLellan’s squad has left.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – Goal, 4 assists, +3
  • This week: Tue at CAR, Thu at OTT, Sat vs LA, Sun vs ANA
Connor McDavid Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Los Angeles Kings (39-27-6, 84 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-1 (3-0 W vs VAN, 4-3 SOL at ARI, 4-1 W vs DET, 3-0 L vs NJ)
  • Analysis: It was another up-and-down week for the Kings, who haven’t won back-to-back games yet in the month of March. They enter this week hanging onto the West’s final playoff spot only by virtue of tiebreakers. Needless to say, they’ll need to string together a few wins in order to gain some separation from Dallas and St. Louis.
  • Player of the week: Anze Kopitar – 4 goals, 2 assists
  • This week: Mon at MIN, Tue at WPG, Thu at COL, Sat at EDM

San Jose Sharks (40-23-9, 89 points)

  • Last week: 4-0-0 (5-3 W vs DET, 4-3 OTW at EDM, 7-4 W at CGY, 5-3 W at VAN)
  • Analysis: Don’t look now, but the Sharks are getting hot at the right time. They’ve won four straight and appear to have broken through at the offensive end of the ice, where they scored 21 goals in four games last week.
  • Player of the week: Tomas Hertl – 4 goals, 3 assists, +7
  • This week: Tue vs NJ, Thu vs VGK, Sat vs CGY
Sharks center Tomas Hertl
Sharks center Tomas Hertl (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Vancouver Canucks (25-38-9, 59 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (3-0 L at LA, 3-0 L at ANA, 5-3 L vs SJ)
  • Analysis: The nightmare season continued last week for Vancouver, as they suffered a regulation loss to each California team en route to their fourth, fifth, and sixth consecutive defeats. Good news, Canucks fans – it’s almost over.
  • Player of the week: Alex Edler – Goal, assist
  • This week: Tue at VGK, Thu at CHI, Fri at STL, Sun at DAL

Vegas Golden Knights (46-21-5, 97 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (3-2 W at PHI, 8-3 L vs NJ, 4-2 L vs MIN, 4-0 W vs CGY)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights are just 5-5-1 since Feb. 23, but they still have a sizable lead in the Pacific owing to their outstanding start to the season. Cracks have begun to appear in their armor, though, as they’ve lost four of their last five home games. Going on the road to T-Mobile Arena isn’t looking as tough as it did a month ago.
  • Player of the week: Erik Haula – 4 goals, assist
  • This week: Tue vs VAN, Thu at SJ, Sat at COL