Welcome to another rendition of Coyotes Corner, and things seem to be getting back in full swing for the Arizona Coyotes. There’s been plenty going on in the desert, as the team finally had its first full week of play since mid-December, going 2-1 in games against the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Nashville Predators.
Off the ice, things have been just as adventurous. The Jakob Chychrun trade rumors continue to swirl, despite the fact there’s no evidence of his imminent departure, but that news officially takes a back seat to the newest development in the Coyotes’ quest to build a new arena in Tempe. That deal is in jeopardy of even progressing through the beginning stages, unless the team’s front office can win over a few more members of the City Council (From: ‘Coyotes’ Tempe arena proposal on thin ice,’ gophnx.com, Jan. 9, 2022).
We’ll have more on that later this week, but for now, let’s dive in to the Coyotes’ week that was, and what to watch for.
Central Division Standings (As of Jan. 10, 2022)
|St. Louis Blues||21-10-5||47|
The Week That Was
Coyotes vs. Winnipeg Jets (Jan. 4, 3-1 Loss)
Arizona kicked off its five-game homestand later than anticpated after its Jan. 2 matchup against the Dallas Stars was postponed due to COVID protocol, and welcomed the Winnipeg Jets to Gila River Arena on Tuesday. The Jets were looking to exact some revenge on the Coyotes after getting shut out back in November, and though the game was largely uneventful, Winnipeg overwhelmingly dominated the offensive side of the puck to ultimately win 3-1.
What Went Right
There wasn’t much of it in this game, but defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s third-period tally helped bring the Coyotes to within one goal midway through the third period. It was Ghost’s sixth goal of the season, and he buried an open chance from the face off circle after intercepting Winnipeg’s attempted clear at the top of the zone.
Gostisbehere and Phil Kessel are tied for second on the team with 23 points each, behind Clayton Keller’s 26.
What Went Wrong
Arizona continues to take penalties at inopportune times, and special teams were again disappointing in this one. The Coyotes allowed a power-play goal, and were also unable to capitalize on Winnipeg’s struggles on the penalty kill, going 0-for-2 with the man advantage. They were also outshot 49-27 in the game, so credit goalie Karel Vejmelka, who stopped 46 of the 48 shots he faced.
Top Coyotes Performers
Gostisbehere, who scored the only goal for Arizona, and Vejmelka, who stood on his head to keep the team in the game. Gostisbehere’s point output this season is already higher than 2019-20 (12) and 2020-21 (20), and there’s still a half-season to go.
The Coyotes, as they do, managed to hang around all game, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer when they needed it. Vejmelka, though, bounced back from a few rough games in late December, and seems to be back to early-season “Veggie” form.
Coyotes vs Chicago Blackhawks (Jan 6, 6-4 Win)
If Tuesday’s game was a sleeper by hockey standpoint, than Thursday’s matchup against the Blackhawks was an all-out barn burner. The offensively-challenged Coyotes scored six goals, held their first three-goal lead of the season, and never trailed in a game that was a huge bounce-back for the club.
What Went Right
You may need to read this twice: The power play! Arizona notched TWO power-play goals in the game, courtesy of both Travis Boyd and Johan Larsson. Larsson stole the show, though, recording his first career hat trick en route to the Coyotes’ win. The team also showed a lot of poise, especially considering it has rarely played with a lead this season. The Blackhawks rallied twice in the game, but each time the Yotes took the punch and were able to counter.
The outcome was a solid win against a division opponent, and the Coyotes made the most of their opportunities.
What Went Wrong
The Coyotes twice sacrificed leads of two goals, allowing Chicago to rally from deficits of 2-0 and 5-2 before shutting them down. The game was in doubt until Larsson’s empty netter with 29 seconds to go in the game, as Chicago simply would not go down without a fight. It looked like Arizona would cruise to victory after going up by three goals just four minutes into the third period, however, back-to-back goals from Jake McCabe and Alex DeBrincat made the finish closer than it needed to be.
Top Coyotes Performer
Larsson, who recorded his first-career hat trick. That said, the club had five players finish with multiple points, and the game was a great team win.
When things are clicking, the Coyotes have an offense that can produce points. The Blackhawks are no slouch in net with Marc-André Fleury leading the way, but Arizona was able to solve him early and often with high-percentage plays, and strong execution. Special teams were also a bright point, as Arizona was 2-for-5 on the power play, and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators (Jan. 8, 4-2 Loss)
The Predators were the Coyotes’ biggest test of the week, and though Arizona ultimately fell 4-2 to the Central Division leaders, there were plenty of things that went right. The only problem? Those all happened after the team had already fallen down 3-0 in the first period.
The game was a rock-em, sock-em event that featured 25 penalties, 86 penalty minutes, and six power-play opportunities for each side.
What Went Right
Considering the game was a loss, there was actually plenty that went right for the Coyotes. For starters, Arizona outshot Nashville 40-29 in the game, including 28-10 over the last two periods of the game. The club should also be credited for its never-say-die mentality, as its stifled offense still managed to rally and give the team a chance despite trailing by three two different times in the game.
Keller scored a highlight-reel goal early in the third period, winning a face off in the zone clean before skating it in and banking it off goalie Juuse Saros. The tally sparked life into the Coyotes, who were within two for the first time since late in the first period. The goal was his team-leading 12th of the season.
Lawson Crouse scored his ninth of the year three minutes after the Predators had restored their three-goal lead, giving the Coyotes a chance in the game.
What Went Wrong
The entire first period was a disaster. Nashville scored 56 seconds into the game, and then added two more 90 seconds apart the frame was coming to a close. Arizona barely had a chance to get settled in before it was down by a goal, and was less than three minutes away from heading into the first intermission down just one, but instead entered the second down by three.
The Coyotes adjusted and played a remarkably sound hockey game starting in the second, but by that point, the damage had been done.
Top Coyotes Performers
Keller stood out from the rest, as he sparked the club’s third period rally. He has stepped up recently, and has become a clear-cut leader for the Coyotes.
Never count this team out. Sure, the Predators were without star Filip Forsberg, but the Coyotes truly hung in the game against the division leaders. Arizona may not be very good, but it continually makes life hard on its opponents.
***Writer’s note: Monday’s practice at Gila River Arena was cancelled due to COVID protocol, and at the time of publishing no further update was available. The below games are subject to postponement by the league.***
Wednesday, Jan. 12 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The prodigal son is returning to The Valley! Superstar Auston Matthews, who grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., arrives with the Toronto Maple Leafs this week. He was the NHL’s first star in December after leading the league in power-play goals (4), points (8), recording his fourth career hat trick, and scored in all seven games that he played in. Three of those were multi-goal campaigns.
Matthews’ 22 goals are third-best in the league, and Toronto’s 22-8-3 record is third-best in an extremely competitive Atlantic Division, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, who each have 41 points.
Friday, Jan. 14 at Colorado Avalanche (away); Saturday, Jan. 15 (home)
The Coyotes hit the road after concluding their homestand, and will clash with the Avalanche in a home-and-home series to kick off the weekend. Colorado is third in the Central Division, but has been coming on strong as of late after winning four straight, and nine of its last 10 games. The club has been scoring at a blistering pace, registering 20 goals in its last four games.
Center Nazem Kadri leads the team in scoring with 44 points, while winger Mikko Rantanen’s 16 goals are tops for the team. Goalie (and former Coyote) Darcy Kuemper is 16-5-0 with a 2.77 goals-allowed average (GAA) and .908 save percentage (SV%).
“I liked the response after the first period, but we keep putting ourselves in this position, so for me, it’s ‘How are we getting ahead of this, and not putting ourselves behind the 8 ball? It’s got to go from the drop of the puck, right off the first shift, and we need to create that standard of play right off the hop.”
– Andrew Ladd on the team’s response after falling down early to Nashville.
“It is crazy. You go a lot of games without [a goal], and then you have one go in and feel better. It hits your stick and goes in, it feels good.”
– Forward Johan Larsson on his hat trick in Arizona’s win over Chicago.
“We have a lot of defensemen who can move the puck and generate offense, and [Gostisbehere] is the leader in that department. He has a good shot, and he has good flare offensively as well.”
– Coach André Tourigny regarding the play of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.