Let’s not sugarcoat things – it was a rough week for the Arizona Coyotes, both on and off the ice.
They started things off on Dec. 6 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Entering the week riding high after winning their fourth straight game on Dec. 4 against the Los Angeles Kings, the Coyotes got off to a good start on Thursday against the Caps, as Christian Fischer opened the scoring just 4:48 in. The teams would then trade goals in the second period – Jakub Vrana tied the game at 5:27, Lawson Crouse restored Arizona’s lead at 6:59, and Matt Niskanen once again equalized things at 16:00. The Capitals then took over in the third period – Andre Burakovsky scored the eventual game-winner at 15:18, and Alex Ovechkin iced the game with an empty-netter at 19:57 to give Washington its first regulation victory in Glendale since Jan. 16, 2006.
Things didn’t get too much better when the San Jose Sharks came to town on Saturday night. The Coyotes quickly fell into a 3-0 hole, and, while they did manage to score three straight goals to tie the game, their hard work was quickly squandered when Lukas Radil walked out from behind the net and fired home his first career NHL goal late in the third period to give San Jose a lead they’d never relinquish. Saturday’s game was the latest in a long line of “Kachina Saturday” losses for the Coyotes – they’re now 2-5-0 in the throwback uniforms this season. Perhaps its time for the team to put the black alternate sweaters back on the shelf for the time being.
The Coyotes then headed out to Boston to take on the Bruins in the first game of a four-game roadie. Arizona hadn’t beaten Boston in their last 13 tries entering Tuesday, and things didn’t change that evening at the TD Garden. Nick Schmaltz and Nick Cousins scored 40 seconds apart in the first period to give the Coyotes a two-goal lead, but Boston stormed back in the second frame. Danton Heinen, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand combined to score four goals in a span of 4:50 to put Boston up by two goals in the blink of an eye. Michael Bunting answered back by scoring in his first career NHL game to cut the deficit to 4-3, but the Coyotes would get no closer as Tuukka Rask locked things down the rest of the way en route to his eighth victory of the season, and Boston’s 14th consecutive win over Arizona.
A Look Ahead
After their heartbreaker in Beantown, the ‘Yotes will travel west to Buffalo for a Thursday night matchup against Jack Eichel and the Sabres. As recently as two weeks ago, the Sabres were on top of the world – they won their 10th straight game on Nov. 27 and were atop the league standings for a brief time as a result of their streak. However, since then, the Sabres are 1-3-2, with their only victory coming in overtime against the lowly Los Angeles Kings. Will the Coyotes be able to take advantage of their struggling opposition? We’ll find out at 7:00 P.M. local time (5:00 P.M. in Arizona) in Western New York.
From there, the Coyotes will make the trip down to Manhattan for a Friday night tilt against the New York Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist’s group wasn’t expected to do much this season, but the Blueshirts are very much in playoff contention in the Metropolitan Division despite being in a “rebuilding” year thanks, in large part, to their 10-4-1 record on home ice and huge contributions from Chris Kreider. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time (5:00 P.M. in Arizona) at the Garden.
A Sunday afternoon matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes will await the Coyotes following their Friday night in the Big Apple. The ‘Canes and ‘Yotes have already seen one another earlier this season, and what a classic it was – despite being outshot 51-25 on the night, the Coyotes picked up a 4-3 overtime victory over Rod Brind’Amour’s squad at Gila River Arena largely due to the play of goaltender Antti Raanta, who made 48 saves. However, the Coyotes will be without Raanta in this one (more on this later) – will they be able to withstand what’s sure to be a furious Carolina offensive attack? Puck drop is scheduled for 1:00 P.M. in Raleigh (11:00 A.M. in Arizona).
Following the finale of their four-game roadie in Carolina, the Coyotes will return home to Arizona and will begin a three-game homestand against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Like the Rangers, the Islanders were expected to struggle this season after losing captain John Tavares in free agency, but nobody told Barry Trotz’s squad about this – the Stanley Cup champion bench boss has his team at 14-11-4 through 29 games and his team has a decent shot at a playoff berth as a result. These two teams will face off at 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.
Raanta Joins Demers, Dvorak and Others on Shelf
With Christian Dvorak and Jason Demers already out for the season, Coyotes fans received more crushing news on Sunday, as the team announced that starting goaltender Antti Raanta underwent a procedure that revealed damage which was “more extensive” than previously thought, and that the goaltender could miss the rest of the season as a result.
Obviously, this is a huge blow for a Coyotes team that is struggling to keep its head above water. Since the start of the 2018 calendar year, Raanta has been among the best goaltenders in the NHL. The Coyotes haven’t had much success in the past when Raanta has been injured, but they’ll have to figure out a way to stay competitive with Adin Hill, Darcy Kuemper, and Calvin Pickard sharing the net.
Raanta isn’t the only player who had been bitten by the injury bug in Arizona, though – far from it. Forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, Michael Grabner, and Alex Galchenyuk also have missed time recently, and defenseman Jakob Chychrun is still getting his legs back under him after undergoing ACL surgery over the offseason. The Coyotes are clearly a banged-up team at the moment, but, despite all of the injuries, and unlike last season, they’ve remained competitive. Will they continue to hang around, or will the wheels fall off with Raanta now out for an extended period of time?
Pacific Division Roundup
We’re just over 30 games into the regular season, and a clear favorite has emerged in the Pacific Division – the Calgary Flames. Their plus-22 goal differential is far-and-away the best in the Pacific Division and is right up there with the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for best in the West. Will the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks be able to keep pace, or will this turn into a runaway?
Anaheim Ducks (16-11-5, 37 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (4-2 W vs CHI, 4-1 L vs CAR, 6-5 SOW vs NJ)
- Analysis: It was another big week for the Ducks, as they picked up four more points and improved to 11-5-2 since ending a seven-game losing streak on Nov. 1. However, it’s not all good news in Orange County – backup goaltender Ryan Miller suffered a sprained MCL in Sunday’s win over New Jersey, and the team was forced to claim Chad Johnson off of waivers as a result. John Gibson has been outstanding this season, but will he be able to handle an increased workload with Miller on the shelf?
- Player of the week: Ondrej Kase – 2 goals, 2 assists, +1, 12 shots
- This week: Wed vs DAL, Sat at CBJ, Mon at PIT, Tue at NYR
Calgary Flames (19-10-2, 40 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (2-0 W vs MIN, 5-2 W vs NSH, 1-0 L at EDM)
- Analysis: Calgary continued its home dominance in its first two games of the week, as they picked up easy victories over the Wild and Predators at the Saddledome to improve to 10-3-2 on home ice. However, the Flames ran into a roadblock on Sunday in Edmonton, as they were shut out by Mikko Koskinen, who picked up his third shutout in just his 13th start of the season. A bright spot is the recent improved play of Mike Smith, who, after briefly losing his starting job to David Rittich, appears to have regained his confidence in goal.
- Players of the week: Mike Smith and David Rittich – 2-1-0 combined record, 85 saves on 88 shots (.966 SV%), 1 shutout (Smith)
- This week: Wed vs PHI, Sat at MIN, Sun at STL, Tue at DAL
Edmonton Oilers (17-12-2, 36 points)
- Last week: 4-0-0 (3-2 SOW at STL, 7-2 W vs MIN, 1-0 W vs CGY, 6-4 W at COL)
- Analysis: Don’t look now, but the Edmonton Oilers are rolling. They’ve won seven of their last eight, with their only loss coming while Connor McDavid was out of the lineup with an illness. Have they finally figured out how to win on a consistent basis, or is this another mirage?
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 3 goals, 5 assists, +5
- This week: Thu at WPG, Fri vs PHI, Sun at VAN, Tue vs STL
Los Angeles Kings (11-19-2, 24 points)
- Last week: 1-2-1 (6-3 L vs NJ, 5-1 W vs VGK, 3-1 L at DET, 4-3 OTL at BUF)
- Analysis: The Kings picked up a nice win over the rival Golden Knights on Saturday afternoon, but, other than that, it was another forgettable week in LA. Willie Desjardins’ squad lost three of four, including a heartbreaker on Tuesday in Buffalo in which the Sabres came from a two-goal third-period deficit to win in overtime. It’s a good thing LeBron James is in town, because there won’t be much to cheer for at the Staples Center this season when the ice is exposed.
- Player of the week: Jake Muzzin – Goal, 4 assists, +4
- This week: Thu at CBJ, Sat at PIT, Tue vs WPG
San Jose Sharks (16-11-5, 37 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (5-1 W vs CAR, 3-2 L at DAL, 5-3 W at AZ, 5-2 W vs NJ)
- Analysis: The Sharks picked up wins in three of four games last week, but perhaps the more promising news is that they’ve begun to show some consistency on the offensive end of the ice. San Jose scored five goals three times last week, and they did so with just a single point from Brent Burns. Once he and Erik Karlsson both get going, this will be a scary group to play against.
- Player of the week: Timo Meier – 3 goals, 4 assists, +5, 15 shots
- This week: Thu vs DAL, Sun at CHI, Tue at MIN
Vancouver Canucks (14-16-3, 31 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (5-3 W vs NSH, 6-1 W at STL, 3-2 W at CBJ)
- Analysis: After 33 games, it’s become abundantly clear that rookie Elias Pettersson is the straw that stirs Vancouver’s drink. When he’s scoring, the Canucks are a tough team to beat. When he’s not, Vancouver looks like they could be beaten by an AHL team most nights. Well, Petterson recorded nine points in three games last week, and, unsurprisingly, Vancouver won all three of their games to break out of a brutal 1-10-1 stretch. Can Pettersson keep it going and drag this team back into contention?
- Player of the week: Elias Petterson – 3 goals, 6 assists, +6
- This week: Thu at NSH, Sat vs PHI, Sun vs EDM, Tue vs TB
Vegas Golden Knights (17-14-1, 35 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 W vs CHI, 5-1 L at LA, 4-2 W vs DAL)
- Analysis: The Knights suffered an uncharacteristic 5-1 blowout loss to the last-place Kings at the Staples Center on Saturday afternoon, but, aside from that defeat, they kept on rolling last week. They picked up wins over the Blackhawks and Stars on Thursday and Sunday, respectively, and find themselves in a tie with Dallas for the West’s No. 8 spot as a result. Quite the accomplishment and rapid turnaround considering their 9-12-1 start.
- Player of the week: Reilly Smith – 2 goals, 2 assists, +2
- This week: Wed at NYI, Fri at NJ, Sun at NYR, Mon at CBJ