When the All-Star break arrived three weeks ago, the Arizona Coyotes were playing like a bottom-five team and had the record to prove it. However, the Coyotes have emerged from the break playing better hockey. While there is not enough time left to make a realistic push for the postseason, Arizona can still make an impact on other teams in the playoff hunt. Here is a look at some of the key factors that have contributed to their turnaround.
The one-two punch on the blueline of Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has spurred the Arizona offense. Yandle’s work on the power play has continued to pay dividends for the Coyotes as he has notched six of his nine second-half assists on the man advantage. His 35 assists lead all defenseman and his 39 points rank fifth in overall defenseman scoring. Meanwhile, Ekman-Larsson has not slowed down since making his first All-Star Game appearance last month in Columbus. The Swedish defenseman has netted four goals to take over the team lead with 16. One of those goals made NHL history when he scored a long-range shorthanded goal just five seconds into the third period in Toronto.
Mike Smith Improving
Over the last few seasons, Arizona has made a habit of living and dying by the play of one specific player: goaltender Mike Smith. The Coyotes have prospered when Smith plays well and struggled when he does not. Since the break, Smith has looked more like the netminder that carried Arizona deep into the 2012 playoffs. Smith has allowed two goals or less in six of his last seven starts and has put up a .940 save percentage or better in five of those games. His best moment during this stretch came on Monday night in Chicago, when he made a game-saving dive to prevent a puck from sliding across the goal line in the final seconds of overtime.
Smith then turned away two of the three Blackhawk attempts in the shootout to give Arizona a 3-2 win, avenging their 6-1 loss in Chicago three weeks earlier.