Antti Raanta. Michael Grabner. Christian Dvorak. Jason Demers. Nick Schmaltz.
What do these key Arizona Coyotes players all have in common? They’re all missing from the lineup with long-term injuries.
Coyotes Licking Their Wounds
Schmaltz and Demers, a top-nine center and a top-four defenseman, respectively, are likely out for the rest of the season with lower-body injuries. Dvorak, another top-nine center who underwent surgery to repair an upper-body injury, will probably finish 2018-19 without playing a game. Grabner, a top-six forward and the team’s leading penalty-killer, suffered a scary eye injury and is also without a timetable to return. Raanta, the franchise starting goaltender, is out for the season with a lower-body injury.
It’s been a ‘Next Man Up’ mentality in Arizona all season as injuries have ravaged this team, but, as The Athletic’s Craig Morgan put it, the Coyotes are running out of men to be the next one up.
For the Coyotes, next man up has become: "Do we have anyone left who can be the next man up?" https://t.co/5HCqJJkiLB
— Craig Morgan (@CraigSMorgan) January 8, 2019
It once was a promising season in the desert – the Coyotes had a winning record at the end of October for the first time since 2013-14 and found themselves right in the midst of the Western Conference playoff race.
Then, they started losing players.
Dvorak has been out for the entire season – he was nearing a return from a lower-body injury back in October when he suffered a different, unrelated injury during a rehab skate, which turned out to be a torn pectoral muscle.
Demers was knocked out of the lineup on Nov. 15 in a game against the Nashville Predators. He had scored the game-winner earlier in the contest, but fell awkwardly in the third period and had to be helped off the ice.
Grabner went down on Dec. 1 in a fluke play where a stick got underneath his visor and caught him in the eye, resulting in a nasty-looking injury. Fair warning – if you’re squeamish, don’t click that link. It’s not pretty.
Raanta last played on Nov. 27, and was originally projected to miss only a handful of games. However, surgery revealed more extensive damage than was originally thought, and he’s now out indefinitely.
Schmaltz’s case was nearly identical to Raanta’s. He last played on Dec. 30, and was considered week-to-week before yesterday’s devastating news broke that he, too, would be out for the season.
Sure, the Coyotes are technically still alive in the playoff race, as they’re only six points out as of this writing, but I’m not too sure how much longer they can continue to hang around, especially as they continue to pull replacement players up from the AHL level.
Coyotes Week in Review
After a lackluster performance in a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights back on Dec. 30, the Coyotes kicked off the New Year on Wednesday, when Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers rolled into town. Edmonton had lost six straight in regulation entering the game, but McDavid put the team on his back – he factored in on the Oilers’ first two goals, then sealed the game with an empty-netter after blocking an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot attempt to give his team a much-needed 3-1 victory.
The Coyotes remained at home following their loss to the Oilers and hosted the New Jersey Devils on Friday evening in Glendale. Entering the game, New Jersey was the league’s worst road team, with a record of just 4-13-3 away from home. The Coyotes had a golden opportunity to pick up the victory after Devils standout goalie Mackenzie Blackwood left the game with an injury in the first period, but they failed to take advantage. Arizona went 0-for-5 on the power play on the evening and generated just 17 shots on goal in 49 minutes against New Jersey backup netminder Keith Kinkaid, after recording eight shots on Blackwood in the game’s first 11 minutes. Arizona’s ineffectiveness at the offensive end of the ice allowed the Devils to hang around and push the game to overtime, where, after a highly entertaining 3-on-3 frame, New Jersey won it decisively in a shootout, 3-2, by scoring on their first two shots.
In the final contest of a four-game homestand, the Coyotes welcomed Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers to Gila River Arena for a Sunday afternoon affair. King Henrik has struggled as of late, but he wasn’t to blame in this one. The Blueshirts turned in an absolutely lifeless performance in Glendale – they were outshot 33-14 through two periods and gave Lundqvist absolutely no support, as he allowed five goals in 36:38 before being pulled in favor of backup Alexandar Georgiev, who manned the pipes the rest of the way in what was a dominant 5-0 Coyotes victory.
A Look Ahead
Following their drubbing of Lundqvist and the Rangers on Sunday, the Coyotes enjoyed a few days off before heading up to Vancouver, where they’ll take on the Canucks on Thursday evening. It’s been a tough go for the Canucks as of late – they lost rookie sensation Elias Pettersson to injury last week in Montreal and they’ve failed to score a goal since. You have to think this is one the Coyotes should win, especially since they’ve been a better road team this season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time (8:00 P.M. in Arizona) at Rogers Arena.
After their visit to British Columbia, the Coyotes will head to Alberta and will kick off a weekend back-to-back against the Oilers on Saturday evening. Arizona has struggled badly against Edmonton as of late – they’re 1-6-1 in their last eight against the Oil. This streak comes after the Coyotes enjoyed a 25-game point streak against their division rivals from Mar. 17, 2011 to Nov. 27, 2016. What goes around, apparently comes around. This one will get started at 8:00 P.M. at Rogers Place.
The Coyotes will then wrap up their short three-game Western Canada roadie on Sunday evening against the surging Calgary Flames. Arizona might have a tough time in this one – the Flames have been one of the best teams in the league over the past few months, and the Coyotes will be on the second night of a back-to-back. Will Rick Tocchet’s squad be able to pull off the upset? We’ll find out when the puck drops at 7:30 P.M. at the Saddledome.
Pacific Division Roundup
The Flames, Golden Knights, and San Jose Sharks are officially running away with the Pacific Division – there’s currently a 12-point gap between the third and fourth-place teams, and it’s looking like any other playoff hopefuls will have to settle for a wild-card spot in the Pacific this season.
Anaheim Ducks (19-17-7, 45 points)
- Last week: 0-2-0 (3-2 L vs VGK, 4-0 L vs EDM)
- Analysis: Things just continue to get worse in Orange County – the Ducks are now 0-6-2 in their last eight and are plummeting down the standings in the Western Conference. Sunday’s listless performance against an Oilers team which had generated just 16 shots on goal in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings a night earlier might have been Anaheim’s worst game of the season – if they can’t turn things around quickly, will Randy Carlyle’s seat start heating up?
- Player of the week: Daniel Sprong – Goal, 6 shots, +1
- This week: Wed vs OTT, Fri vs PIT, Sun at WPG, Tue at DET
Calgary Flames (27-13-4, 58 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (5-3 W at DET, 6-4 L at BOS, 3-2 OTW at PHI, 4-3 W at CHI)
- Analysis: We’ve mentioned it a few times before, but we’ll go ahead and say it again – Calgary suffering a 9-1 beatdown on home ice at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins back on Oct. 25 may have been the best thing to happen to the team in years. They’ve gone 22-8-4 and have outscored the opposition 124-88 in 34 games since, and have used a high-flying offense to ascend to the top of the Western Conference standings. The Flames haven’t been past the second round since a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2004, though – will this be the year they end that streak?
- Player of the week: Johnny Gaudreau – 5 goals, 4 assists, +5, 16 shots
- This week: Wed vs COL, Fri vs FLA, Sun vs AZ
Edmonton Oilers (20-20-3, 43 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (3-1 W at AZ, 4-0 L at LA, 4-0 W at ANA, 7-2 L at SJ)
- Analysis: In the continuation of a trend we’ve seen for the past few years, Edmonton once again is arguably the most inconsistent team in the NHL. They’ve dropped eight of their last 10 in regulation while allowing an average of five goals a night in the losses. In the wins? Edmonton shut out the Ducks, and allowed a single tally against the Coyotes. Good luck figuring out this team. We’ve tried and failed for three seasons now.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 3 goals, 2 assists, 15 shots
- This week: Thu vs FLA, Sat vs AZ, Mon vs BUF
Los Angeles Kings (17-24-3, 37 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (6-2 L vs TB, 4-0 W vs EDM, 3-1 L at SJ)
- Analysis: The Kings entered December seven games below the .500 mark, and they remain there 18 games later as of today, Jan. 9. They’re playing much better hockey as of late, but they’re still having problems at the offensive end of the ice – they’re the only team that has yet to break the 100-goal mark on the season. Los Angeles is squarely in the Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko conversation.
- Player of the week: Anze Kopitar – 2 goals, assist
- This week: Thu vs OTT, Sat vs PIT, Tue at MIN
San Jose Sharks (25-13-7, 57 points)
- Last week: 4-0-0 (5-4 W at COL, 5-2 W vs TB, 3-1 W vs LA, 7-2 W vs EDM)
- Analysis: Think Erik Karlsson is getting comfortable in a Sharks sweater? In his last six games, he’s recorded a goal and 14 assists. 15 points in six games are absurd for any player, but for a defenseman on a team that already has Brent Burns, it’s almost unfair. This is a dangerous, dangerous team. If Martin Jones gets hot come April and May, there’s no one in the league that can beat the Sharks four times in a seven-game series.
- Player of the week: Erik Karlsson – 9 assists, +4
- This week: Thu at VGK, Sat vs OTT, Tue vs PIT
Vancouver Canucks (20-21-4, 44 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (4-3 OTW at OTT, 2-0 L at MTL, 5-0 L at TOR)
- Analysis: Last week, we talked about how important rookie forward Elias Pettersson has been to the Canucks this season. Well, he suffered a knee injury in Thursday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and Vancouver hasn’t scored during his absence. Here’s hoping he doesn’t miss too much time – the league is better with Pettersson on the ice.
- Player of the week: Elias Pettersson – 3 goals
- This week: Thu vs AZ, Sun vs FLA
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) January 4, 2019
Vegas Golden Knights (27-15-4, 58 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (3-2 W at ANA, 3-2 W vs NJ, 4-2 W vs NYR)
- Analysis: Another week, another six points for the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights. They’ve now earned points in 10 straight games (8-0-2) and have recovered nicely from an early-season swoon which saw them at 9-12-1 at one point. That’s ancient history now, and this team looks to be a threat to repeat as Western Conference champions.
- Player of the week: Marc-Andre Fleury – 2-0-0 record, 52 saves on 56 shots (.929 SV%, 2.01 GAA), 9-0-3 in last 12 starts
- This week: Thu vs SJ, Sat at CHI, Tue at WPG
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.