Coyotes Weekly: Reinforcements on the Way

Last week at this time, the Arizona Coyotes were in the midst of a four-game losing streak during which their power play wasn’t scoring and their playoff hopes were diminishing by the day.

What a difference a week makes – the Coyotes have scored three power play goals in their last two games, they’ve won two straight against current Western Conference playoff teams, and they’re just four points off of the pace in the race for the final wild-card spot.

Oh, and Christian Dvorak, Jason Demers, and Brad Richardson are getting close to returning to the lineup.

Things are looking up!

Coyotes Week in Review

Following a disappointing 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 5, the Coyotes returned home to Glendale and began a short two-game homestand on Thursday evening against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Arizona fell behind 2-0 after a lackluster first period, but they stormed back and tied the game in the middle frame with two goals in a span of 1:43. However, they were unable to sustain the momentum they built after the two quick goals, and Josh Anderson restored Columbus’ lead with a power play goal later in the period before Boone Jenner delivered the nail in the coffin late as the Blue Jackets escaped Glendale with a 4-2 victory.

Columbus Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 saves on 31 shots to earn the win in Glendale on Thursday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

After their fifth straight loss on Thursday, the Coyotes hosted the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon in an absolute must-win game. Dallas is a team that the Coyotes could potentially catch for a wild-card spot, especially if the St. Louis Blues continue their rapid ascent up the Pacific Division standings, so this one was one of those “four-point games” that frequently come into play at this time of year. On the strength of two power play goals, the Coyotes jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods, and Alex Galchenyuk added that crucial third goal early in Period No. 3 to make it a 3-0 hockey game. The Stars came storming back, though, and made the game interesting after scoring two goals in 27 seconds late in the game. They pushed hard for the equalizer, but the Coyotes and goaltender Darcy Kuemper held on and earned a big 3-2 victory.

Arizona Coyotes Alex Goligoski
Alex Goligoski and the Coyotes celebrate his power play goal against the Dallas Stars on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Coyotes then made the short flight up to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a Tuesday night meeting with Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights. The Coyotes had just one win over Vegas since their desert rivals entered the league in 2017, but they managed to double that total after a lucky night out on The Strip – a three-goal third-period outburst by Arizona helped them turn a tight 2-2 contest into a comfortable 5-2 victory at T-Mobile Arena, their second in four tries at The Fortress.

Arizona Coyotes Nick Cousins
Nick Cousins’ third-period goal stood up as the game-winner in the Coyotes’ 5-2 win in Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

A Look Ahead

The Coyotes returned home from Vegas following their huge 5-2 victory and will kick off a busy week on Thursday night at Gila River Arena with a Valentine’s Day matchup against the St. Louis Blues. Craig Berube’s club has risen from the absolute dead this season – the Blues sat in last place in the Western Conference as recently as Jan. 6, but they’ve climbed back into contention in the Central Division with a record of 12-3-1 since that date. A number of players have stepped up in the second half for St. Louis, but none has had a bigger impact on the Blues’ success than rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, who has won his last six starts, and 10 of his 12 starts overall. This very important four-point game in the Western Conference playoff race will get started at 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.

St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington Vladimir Tarasenko
Jordan Binnington and Vladimir Tarasenko have both enjoyed great second halves as the Blues have climbed back into playoff contention. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Arizona will then begin a string of five consecutive games against Canadian clubs on Saturday evening in Glendale when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. Led by Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Scottsdale native Auston Matthews – who just signed a lucrative contract extension that will keep him in the White and Blue for the next five seasons – the Maple Leafs are one of the league’s highest-scoring teams this season. They do allow the eighth-most shots against per game, though, so this one has the potential to be a high-scoring affair in the Grand Canyon State. Fans, note the early start time of this one, as the puck will drop at 5:00 P.M., one hour earlier than the usual Saturday night start time.

Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews,
Slowing down Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will be a huge challenge for the Coyotes’ defense. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

After wrapping up another short homestand, the ‘Yotes will head out to Western Canada for a three-game roadie starting on Monday afternoon in Calgary. In a rare weekday matinee affair, the Coyotes will be looking to avenge two earlier blowout losses to the Flames – they were demolished at home in a five-goal loss on Nov. 25, and dropped a 7-1 decision at the Saddledome back on Jan. 13. It’ll be interesting to see if former Coyote Mike Smith once again gets the start – he won both of his starts against Arizona this season, and his most recent performance on Jan. 13 remains his only appearance since Dec. 8 in which he allowed fewer than three goals. At this point in his career, Smith seems to only play well when he’s highly motivated, so he very well could get another start against the club which practically gave him away over the summer of 2017. Puck drop is at 2:00 P.M. at the Saddledome.

From there, Arizona will make the trip northward to Edmonton, where they’ll take on the Oilers for the third time this season. Both teams have picked up a road win against one another this year, and the Coyotes will be looking to extend their point streak at Rogers Place to four games, after a win on Jan. 12 and two prior overtime losses in 2017-18. The Oilers have struggled lately, but you can’t really overlook a team that has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the roster – Arizona needs to show up ready to play in this one, which will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in Edmonton.

Pacific Division Roundup

For the first time in quite a while, we have a new leader in the Pacific Division – the San Jose Sharks.

Anaheim Ducks (21-26-9, 51 points)

  • Last week: 0-2-0 (4-0 L at OTT, 6-2 L at PHI)
  • Analysis: After an absolutely humiliating five-game road trip in which they were outscored 29-7, the Ducks will return home to Anaheim and will play three home games this week – all against playoff contenders – before heading out onto the road again. In fact, the Ducks’ next five games are all against teams with records of .500 or higher – things could get a lot worse before they get better. With two wins in the last 58 days, general manager Bob Murray had clearly seen enough of head coach Randy Carlyle, and, in a classic “if you want a job done right, do it yourself” moment, fired Carlyle and named himself as interim coach. Murray, who has been Anaheim’s GM since 2008, has no coaching experience at any level – it’s a bold strategy, let’s see how it works out for him.
  • Player of the week: Nick Ritchie – Goal, assist, 7 shots
  • This week: Wed vs VAN, Fri vs BOS, Sun vs WSH, Tue at MIN
Bob Murray Ducks
Can Bob Murray successfully make the transition from the press box to the bench? (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Calgary Flames (34-16-6, 74 points)

  • Last week: 0-2-1 (5-2 L vs SJ, 4-3 SOL at VAN, 6-3 L at TB)
  • Analysis: Hi there, I’d like to report the Calgary Flames as missing. They were last seen at the Saddledome on Jan. 22, when they beat the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime to win their final game before the All-Star Break. Since then, Bill Peters’ group is 1-3-1 and has allowed three or more goals in each of those five games. We posed the goaltending question last week – are David Rittich and Mike Smith a good enough tandem to lead this team to a Stanley Cup? It’s looking more and more like the answer is ‘no’ – will general manager Brad Treliving move to address this need at the deadline?
  • Player of the week: Elias Lindholm – Goal, 3 assists
  • This week: Thu at FLA, Sat at PIT, Mon vs AZ

Edmonton Oilers (24-26-5, 53 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-0 (4-1 W at MIN, 5-2 L vs SJ)
  • Analysis: The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ finally won a game last week for the first time since Jan. 16, but they promptly lost their next one by three goals to drop back to two games below .500. The Oilers are still hanging around in the playoff race, but does anyone really have faith that they’ll pull things together in time to make a run at a wild-card spot? It doesn’t seem likely, and it sure sounds like head coach Ken Hitchcock has already been beaten down and broken by the rampant losing culture in Edmonton after less than three months on the job.
  • Player of the week: Zack Kassian – 2 goals, assist, +2
  • This week: Wed at PIT, Fri at CAR, Sat at NYI, Tue vs AZ

Los Angeles Kings (23-28-5, 51 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (3-2 SOW at PHI, 5-4 OTL at BOS, 6-4 L at WSH)
  • Analysis: The Kings enjoyed a successful six-game road trip to start the month of February, as they went 3-2-1 on a very tough post-All Star break roadie on the East Coast. They’ll now return home to the Staples Center, where they’ll play 12 of their next 18 games. If they’re going to have any chance at making the playoffs, they’ll need to go on a big-time winning streak on home ice.
  • Player of the week: Austin Wagner – 3 goals, +2
  • This week: Thu vs VAN, Sat vs BOS, Mon vs WSH

San Jose Sharks (34-16-7, 75 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (5-2 W at CGY, 5-2 W at EDM, 7-2 W at VAN)
  • Analysis: The Sharks are officially on fire – they’ve won six straight, and they’ve scored five or more goals in four of those games. They’ve also allowed just two goals in each of their last five contests – the offense and the defense are peaking at the right time. A division title seems likely if San Jose can continue scoring goals at a high rate, and that’s bad news for the rest of the Pacific, as the Sharks own an 18-4-4 record at the Shark Tank in 2018-19.
  • Player of the week: Evander Kane – 5 goals, 2 assists, +6, 17 shots
  • This week: Thu vs WSH, Sat vs VAN, Mon vs BOS
San Jose Sharks Evander Kane
Evander Kane put up some monster numbers last week for the Sharks. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Vancouver Canucks (25-25-7, 57 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (4-3 OTL at CHI, 4-3 SOW vs CGY, 7-2 L vs SJ)
  • Analysis: We at THW aren’t too sure what to make of the Canucks at this point – they’re hanging around the playoff cutoff line, but they’re really struggling to put together multiple solid performances in a row. They’re 1-3-1 in their last five and haven’t won three games in a row since early December. They’re going to have to get hot and go on a winning streak at some point in order to gain some separation in the Western Conference – could it happen on the always-tough California road trip this week?
  • Player of the week: Josh Leivo – 2 goals, 2 assists
  • This week: Wed at ANA, Thu at LA, Sat at SJ

Vegas Golden Knights (31-23-4, 66 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (4-3 W at DET, 4-3 L vs CBJ, 5-2 L vs AZ)
  • Analysis: Is it time to hit the panic button in Vegas? Since winning seven straight from Dec. 27 to Jan. 8, the Knights are just 4-8-0. They’ve fallen significantly behind the Sharks and Flames in the Pacific, and could come within reach of a team like Vancouver or Arizona if their slide continues.
  • Player of the week: Nate Schmidt – 2 goals, assist, +1
  • This week: Thu vs TOR, Sat vs NSH, Mon at COL