Monday Morning Howl: Coyotes Embrace Role of Spoiler

As the NHL’s regular season winds down, one would expect that the Arizona Coyotes, who have essentially been eliminated from playoff contention since early November, would pack it in and simply “go through the motions” over the final few weeks as they look forward to a long offseason with their families. However, they’ve done just the opposite — they appear to have fully embraced playing the role of spoiler, and will have many more opportunities to affect the playoff position of their conference rivals over the season’s final two weeks.

Coyotes Playing Meaningful Games

The Coyotes, following their disappointing home loss to the Minnesota Wild on Mar. 17, got back on the ice last Monday and wrapped up a five-game homestand against Mike Smith and the Calgary Flames, who desperately needed a victory to stay in the playoff race in the Western Conference. This was Smith’s first game at Gila River Arena since being traded over the offseason, and the Coyotes jumped all over him, scoring three goals on 28 shots before adding two empty-netters to provide the final 5-2 margin of victory.

After defeating their former goaltender, the Coyotes headed out to Buffalo and began a six-game road trip against the Sabres on Wednesday. In a matchup between two of the league’s worst teams, the Coyotes struck quickly, as Dylan Strome scored his second career NHL goal in his first game since being recalled to the NHL earlier in the week. Derek Stepan added a goal later in the first period, and the Coyotes cruised to a 4-1 victory over the hapless Sabres.

Arizona Coyotes center Dylan Strome
Arizona Coyotes center Dylan Strome (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

A hectic schedule resulted in a very short turnaround for the Coyotes, as they had to make the nearly two-hour flight from Buffalo to Raleigh, North Carolina and play again on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Despite the rough travel schedule, the Coyotes actually held a 5-4 lead in this one after two periods thanks to one of the strangest goals you’ll ever see. They ran out of gas in the third frame, though, as Valentin Zykov tied the game at 9:46 and Jeff Skinner won it at 18:02 to send Arizona to a 6-5 defeat.

The Coyotes then headed down to the Sunshine State for a Saturday night matchup against the Florida Panthers. The Cats have been red-hot as of late, going 19-6-1 since the All-Star Break, but the ‘Yotes played them tough, holding a 2-0 lead after two periods. As they did on Thursday, though, Arizona squandered the lead in the third period, as Florida flipped the switch and scored four unanswered to stay alive in the playoff race with a 4-2 victory.

Coyotes’ Roadie Continues

Following their loss on Saturday in Sunrise, the Coyotes will make the short trip across the state of Florida to Tampa for a Monday night contest against the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Let’s not sugarcoat things – even though they’re no longer the league’s top team in the standings, this Tampa Bay squad is extremely dangerous. Arizona will need to be at the top of its game if it expects to be competitive at Amalie Arena, where the Lightning are 27-8-2 this season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. ET (4:30 P.M. in Arizona).

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

After wrapping things up in Florida, the Coyotes will make their way back out west and will head to Sin City for a Wednesday night meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Coyotes – Knights series was said to be one of the league’s newest rivalries over the offseason, but the Coyotes need to actually win a game against Vegas to consider themselves their rival – they’re 0-2-2 against the league’s newest team so far this season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at T-Mobile Arena.

The Coyotes will then make the short trip to Southern California on Thursday to take on the Los Angeles Kings. Unlike the series with the Golden Knights, the Coyotes and Kings have a legitimate rivalry, and Arizona will once again have the chance to spoil Los Angeles’ playoff hopes, just as they did last season with an 11-round shootout victory in mid-March and a 2-1 regulation win in early April. With a shootout win on Mar. 13 already in the books, can the Coyotes help the Kings book their early tee-time reservations again this season with a win at the Staples Center? This one will get started at 7:30 P.M.

Anze Kopitar Kings
Anze Kopitar (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Following their travels across America, the ‘Yotes will finally return to Arizona on Saturday night for their penultimate home contest against the St. Louis Blues. Like the Kings, St. Louis is also fighting for their playoff lives, and a Coyotes win could severely damage their hopes of reaching the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. in Glendale.

Pacific Division Roundup

The Vegas Golden Knights are still in the driver’s seat in the Pacific Division with less than two weeks to play, but the San Jose Sharks are nipping at their heels and are just six points behind with a gargantuan matchup between the teams looming on Saturday.

Anaheim Ducks (39-24-13, 91 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (4-0 W at CGY, 3-2 OTL at WPG, 5-4 OTW at EDM)
  • Analysis: The Ducks held sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division at this time a week ago, and they remain in that spot now after picking up five points during a three-game swing through Canada last week. They’ll wrap up their Canadian road trip on Tuesday in Vancouver before returning home to host the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night in a game that could decide who makes the playoffs and who goes home. No pressure, Ducks fans.
  • Player of the week: Hampus Lindholm – 2 goals (including OT GWG vs EDM), assist, +3
  • This week: Tue at VAN, Fri vs LA, Sun vs COL
Hampus Lindholm Ducks
Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks, Oct. 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Calgary Flames (35-31-10, 80 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (5-2 L at ARI, 4-0 L vs ANA, 5-1 L at SJ)
  • Analysis: The Flames have now lost five consecutive games (all in regulation), and, barring a miracle, will be playing golf at this time two weeks from now instead of preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs. What went wrong? Well, the play of goaltender Mike Smith has been a major factor – he’s posted a brutal .861 SV% so far in March, which decreases to .822 over the last four games. Good thing he’s playing with guys that can score, eh?
  • Player of the week: Dougie Hamilton – Goal, assist
  • This week: Mon at LA, Thu vs CBJ, Sat vs EDM

Edmonton Oilers (34-36-6, 74 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-1 (7-3 W at CAR, 6-2 W at OTT, 3-2 W vs LA, 5-4 OTL vs ANA)
  • Analysis: It’s too late to matter at this point, but the Oilers have points in four straight and are 7-2-2 over their last 11 games. Connor McDavid has been stellar all season long, but it’s a shame that his teammates waited until March to show up this year. It’ll be another season of watching the draft lottery in Edmonton, although if they do indeed manage to win it again, fans of the 30 other teams might converge upon New York City and riot outside the league offices. Don’t say you haven’t been warned, Mr. Bettman.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 5 goals, 5 assists, +5
  • This week: Tue vs CBJ, Thu at VAN, Sat at CGY
Connor McDavid Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Los Angeles Kings (41-28-7, 89 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-1 (4-3 OTW at MIN, 2-1 OTL at WPG, 7-1 W at COL, 3-2 L at EDM)
  • Analysis: The Kings sure picked a good time to play their most inconsistent hockey of the year – they’ve yet to win back-to-back games in March and are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in with less than two weeks to go. Five of their final six games will be at the Staples Center, though, with the lone road game taking place in Anaheim, so they’ll be able to determine their playoff fates from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Player of the week: Anze Kopitar – 4 goals, 2 assists, +3
  • This week: Mon vs CGY, Thu vs AZ, Fri at ANA

San Jose Sharks (43-23-9, 95 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (6-2 W vs NJ, 2-1 OTW vs VGK, 5-1 W vs CGY)
  • Analysis: It’s official – the Sharks are red-hot. They’ve won seven straight games and are outscoring the opposition 34-17 during the streak. Barring an epic collapse, San Jose will be in the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons, and they have an outside shot at catching the Vegas Golden Knights, as they’re just six points back with seven games to play. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Not with the way San Jose is playing.
  • Player of the week: Brent Burns – Goal, 4 assists, +3
  • This week: Mon at CHI, Tue at STL, Thu at NSH, Sat at VGK
Brent Burns Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, Nov. 28, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vancouver Canucks (27-40-9, 63 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (4-1 L at VGK, 5-2 W at CHI, 4-1 L at STL, 4-1 W at DAL)
  • Analysis: The Canucks snapped a seven-game losing streak on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, and dealt the Dallas Stars a crushing 4-1 loss on Sunday night deep in the heart of Texas. According to Sports Club Stats, the Stars now have less than a one percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. The Canucks aren’t making the playoffs, but they’re taking teams down with them.
  • Player of the week: Jacob Markstrom – 2-1-0 record, 93 saves on 100 shots (.930 SV%, 2.33 GAA)
  • This week: Tue vs ANA, Thu vs EDM, Sat vs CBJ

Vegas Golden Knights (47-21-7, 101 points)

  • Last week: 1-0-2 (4-1 W vs VAN, 2-1 OTL at SJ, 2-1 SOL at COL)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights have seen their once-prodigious lead in the Pacific Division be cut in half over the past few weeks, but not because of their own play. No, they’re 5-2-2 over their last nine and will have four more home games to sort out their recent issues at T-Mobile Arena before the postseason begins.
  • Players of the week: Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban – 1-0-2 combined record, 100 saves on 104 shots (.962 SV%, 1.30 GAA)
  • This week: Mon vs COL, Wed vs AZ, Fri vs STL, Sat vs SJ