Coyotes Weekly: Fighting for Their Playoff Lives

After finishing a four-game losing streak with a 0-2-2 record, things were looking grim for the Arizona Coyotes. They had lost a three-point playoff cushion they had enjoyed just a few days earlier, and saw the Colorado Avalanche leapfrog them in the standings.

However, after a huge shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes once again find themselves alive and well in the Western Conference playoff race, with two massive games against other wild-card contenders coming up in the next five days.

Strap in and grab onto something, Coyotes fans – this week is going to be wild.

Coyotes Week in Review

Following a tough (but well-played) loss in Tampa Bay on Mar. 18, the Coyotes continued their four-game Eastern Conference roadie on Thursday in the Sunshine State when they visited Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers. Michael Grabner gave Arizona an early lead with yet another shorthanded goal (his sixth, and Arizona’s 16th), but the Coyotes couldn’t hang on – Florida scored the next three goals to open up a 3-1 lead, and, while Brad Richardson cut the deficit to 3-2 with a late goal, Arizona could come no closer and dropped their third straight game by a 4-2 score.

Michael Grabner Arizona Coyotes
Michael Grabner has been a wizard on the penalty kill for the Coyotes this season. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes then made the trip up to NYC for a weekend back-to-back starting on Saturday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils. Arizona again scored the opening goal of the game, but, once again, they were unable to add to their lead – New Jersey scored to tie the game late in the first period, and the game eventually headed to a shootout, where Blake Coleman and Pavel Zacha scored on back-to-back shots to send Arizona to a fourth straight loss.

goaltender Darcy Kuemper
Darcy Kuemper played well in New Jersey on Saturday, but he received no support from his teammates. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

After Saturday’s disappointing shootout loss in New Jersey, the Coyotes were right back in action on Sunday afternoon on Long Island as they visited the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the first time since the 2014-15. The New York Islanders, despite losing captain John Tavares via free agency over the summer, have been one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams this season, and they looked the part on Sunday in Uniondale. A stingy Barry Trotz-led defense, which has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, stymied the Arizona offensive attack all game long – the Coyotes struggled to generate high-danger scoring chances, and, when they did, Robin Lehner was there to shut the door. Lehner turned aside all 31 shots thrown his way, and received two goals of support from his teammates in a New York shutout victory.

Returning back home in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Coyotes faced the Chicago Blackhawks, a team which had just defeated Arizona 7-1 at the United Center back on March 11. One would think that the Coyotes would have to score a ton in this game to win, but one goal was all they needed. With Darcy Kuemper pitching a shutout at the other end, Nick Cousins buried a power-play goal early in the third period and the Coyotes shut the ‘Hawks down the rest of the way en route to a crucial 1-0 victory. The win not only greatly aided Arizona’s playoff hopes, but also put the final nail in the coffin for Chicago.

A Look Ahead

Fresh off of their huge victory over Chicago in Glendale on Tuesday, Arizona will hit the road once more for a huge game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night in Denver. With the teams tied in the standings as of this writing, this game could make or break the season for both clubs. If you lose, you probably miss the playoffs. No pressure! This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in Denver (6:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Colorado Avalanche Patrik Nemeth Philipp Grubauer
Philipp Grubauer has carried the Avalanche over the last month or so. Can the Coyotes get a few pucks past him? (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

After their trip to the Mile High City, the Coyotes will return home and will begin the final multi-game homestand of the regular season with a Sunday matinee matchup against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild have struggled as of late, but they’ve shown they’re still a dangerous and desperate team – Arizona can’t afford a letdown in this one, no matter the result of Friday’s game in Denver. Puck drop is at 2:00 P.M. in Glendale.

The Coyotes will then finish out their week (and homestand) with their final matchup of the season with the rival Los Angeles Kings. LA is playing for pride at this point, but I’m sure they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler to their Pacific rival and knock them out of playoff contention. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

Pacific Division Roundup – All done

It looks like the Calgary Flames have all but wrapped up their first division title since the 2005-06 season. Here’s a look at how the rest of the division fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (32-36-10, 74 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-1 (3-0 L vs WPG, 4-3 OTW vs SJ, 4-3 SOL at LA, 5-4 W at VAN)
  • Analysis: We’ve said it over the past few weeks, but we’ll say it again – the Ducks are playing some good hockey lately. They’re 8-4-1 in their last 12, and have a chance to finish with a .500 record if they win their remaining four games. Not bad considering their 2-15-4 stretch of hockey in the middle of the season. They’ll definitely have something to build upon heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
  • Player of the week: Sam Steel – 3 goals, assist, +3
  • This week: Fri at CGY, Sat at EDM

Calgary Flames (47-22-7, 101 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-1 W vs OTT, 3-1 W at VAN, 3-0 L vs LA)
  • Analysis: Despite a bad 3-0 loss to the lowly Kings on home ice on Monday, the Flames may have done enough to clinch the Pacific Division last week, barring a collapse over the season’s final six games. They’ve opened up a six-point lead over the Sharks and will hold the tiebreaker due to ROW (regulation + overtime wins) as well. The road to the Stanley Cup Final in the Western Conference will, more likely than not, travel through Calgary.
  • Player of the week: Mike Smith – 2-1-0 record, 62 saves on 66 shots (.939 SV%, 1.34 GAA)
  • This week: Wed vs DAL, Fri vs ANA, Sun at SJ, Mon at LA
Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith
Mike Smith has stood on his head as of late in Calgary. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Edmonton Oilers (34-34-8, 76 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (4-1 W vs CBJ, 4-3 OTL vs OTT, 8-4 W vs LA)
  • Analysis: The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ bounced back nicely from a brutal week, as they earned five of six possible points to kick off a five-game homestand, scoring 15 goals in the process. A playoff berth is a long shot (unless they win out and get a ton of help), but the Oilers have shown a bit of promise over the past few weeks – they’re five games above .500 since Feb. 16.
  • Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 3 goals, 5 assists, +3, 8 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs DAL, Sat vs ANA, Mon at VGK, Tue at COL

Los Angeles Kings (28-40-8, 64 points)

  • Last week: 3-1-0 (4-2 W vs SJ, 4-3 SOW vs ANA, 3-0 W at CGY, 8-4 L at EDM)
  • Analysis: The Kings picked up three straight wins over Pacific Division opponents last week, and, while it was nice to deal the rival Sharks a damaging loss, Los Angeles may have taken itself out of the running for the top lottery odds as a result. They’re now four points “behind” Ottawa in the upside-down standings, although Los Angeles would lose any tie based on ROW. There’s still hope in the “Lose for Hughes” and “Play Like Crappo for Kaapo” sweepstakes.
  • Player of the week: Dustin Brown – 2 goals, 4 assists, 18 SOG
  • This week: Thu at VAN, Sat vs CHI, Mon vs CGY, Tue at AZ
Dustin Brown
Former Kings captain Dustin Brown has been red-hot on the offensive end of the ice. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

San Jose Sharks (43-24-9, 95 points)

  • Last week: 0-2-1 (4-2 L at LA, 4-3 OTL at ANA, 3-2 L vs DET)
  • Analysis: What’s happening in San Jose? The Sharks have now lost six straight games, four of which came to non-playoff teams. Neither Aaron Dell nor Martin Jones have been able to stop the bleeding, as the Sharks have allowed four or more goals in six of their last seven contests. If San Jose can’t get their goaltending situation straightened out, Vegas will make quick work of them in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • Player of the week: Marc-Edouard Vlasic – 3 assists, +1
  • This week: Thu vs CHI, Sat vs VGK, Sun vs CGY, Tue at VAN
San Jose Sharks Martin Jones
If Martin Jones doesn’t get his play turned around, it’ll be a short postseason in San Jose. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Vancouver Canucks (32-35-10, 74 points)

  • Last week: 1-3-0 (7-4 W vs OTT, 3-1 L vs CGY, 5-0 L vs CBJ, 5-4 L vs ANA)
  • Analysis: The Canucks tied a season-high with a third consecutive victory on Wednesday against Ottawa, but they dropped their next three to fall back to three games below .500. If Vancouver was consistent night in and night out, they’d be a dangerous team, but that’ll come with experience. This is a rebuild and an extremely young roster, after all.
  • Player of the week: Alex Edler – Goal, 4 assists, +3
  • This week: Thu vs LA, Sat vs DAL, Tue vs SJ

Vegas Golden Knights (42-28-6, 90 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (5-0 W vs WPG, 3-2 OTL vs DET, 3-1 L at STL)
  • Analysis: After winning 10 of 11 from Feb. 26 to March 21, the Golden Knights have now dropped two straight games. They’re in no danger of missing the playoffs, but their chances of catching the Sharks and earning home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs are looking slim.
  • Player of the week: William Karlsson – 3 goals, assist, +1
  • This week: Wed at COL, Fri vs MIN, Sat at SJ, Mon vs EDM

Wild-Card Roundup

The Coyotes, at 37-33-7 (81 points, 33 ROW), enter the final 11 days of the season in a tie with the Avalanche for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, although the Avs have the edge due to one fewer game played. A lot is still to be decided – here’s a look at the race for the West’s wild-cards:

Dallas Stars (39-31-6, 84 points, 39 ROW, 7th in West)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-1 L vs COL, 3-2 L vs PIT, 5-2 W at WPG)
  • Analysis: Dallas suddenly has lost four of their last six, and they’ve allowed the Avalanche and Coyotes to enter the conversation for the No. 7 seed in the West. A tough week is coming up for the Stars – three games in four nights in Western Canada, then a home game against Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers after a flight from Vancouver. If they stumble, Arizona and Colorado are ready to take advantage.
  • Player of the week: Tyler Seguin – 4 goals, 21 SOG
  • This week: Wed at CGY, Thu at EDM, Sat at VAN, Tue vs PHI
Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin
Tyler Seguin had a big week in Dallas. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Colorado Avalanche (34-29-13, 33 ROW, 81 points, 8th in West)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (3-1 W at DAL, 4-2 W vs CHI, 2-1 OTL at CHI
  • Analysis: The Avalanche were all but an afterthought in the playoff race just 12 days ago, but they’re 4-0-1 in their last five games and currently occupy the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference as a result. The play of goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been a catalyst for Colorado’s rapid ascent up the standings – he’s allowed two goals or fewer in all of his last 11 appearances.
  • Player of the week: Philipp Grubauer – 2-0-1 record, 113 saves on 118 shots (.958 SV%, 1.65 GAA)
  • This week: Wed vs VGK, Fri vs AZ, Mon at STL, Tue vs EDM

Minnesota Wild (35-33-9, 79 points, 34 ROW, 10th in West)

  1. Last week: 1-2-0 (2-1 W at WSH, 5-1 L at CAR. 1-0 L vs NSH)
  2. Analysis: The Wild are a mess right now – they’re 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, and they’ve dropped right out of the playoff hunt in the West as a result. All five of their remaining games are against playoff-contending teams – can Minnesota overcome the odds and sneak into the postseason?
  3. Player of the week: Ryan Donato – 2 assists
  4. This week: Fri at VGK, Sun at AZ, Tue vs WPG