Coyotes’ Wednesday Weekly: Keller & Stepan Heating Up

Happy Holidays! The NHL has reconvened following their three-day holiday break, and we return along with them to bring you your weekly Arizona Coyotes coverage.

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas

The Coyotes got their week started with a Tuesday night matchup against the Florida Panthers. After dominating the game’s first 39 minutes, the ‘Yotes held a 2-0 lead late in the second period and appeared to be en route to an easy victory. However, despite being badly outshot for most of the contest, the Panthers turned the tables with a goal in the final seconds of the second frame and added two more in the third period to pick up a 3-2 victory in regulation and send the Coyotes home empty-handed.

James Reimer Panthers
James Reimer was outstanding for the Florida Panthers on Tuesday against the Coyotes. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

On Friday, the Coyotes welcomed the 2016 and 2017 Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals to Gila River Arena. The ‘Yotes fell behind 2-1 in the third period, but they tied the game with 1:01 remaining as Christian Fischer found a loose puck and banged it into the net to send the game to 3-on-3 overtime. Clayton Keller and Max Domi took over from there:

Arizona was back in action again on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. After a scoreless first period, the game turned in the second frame, when ‘Yotes forward Zac Rinaldo received a five-minute major for punching Colorado blueliner Samuel Girard after the former delivered an open-ice hit to Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche ended up with three minutes of power play time after all was said and done, and they made the Coyotes pay as they scored two power-play goals and two even-strength tallies in a span of 3:46 to open up a 4-0 lead. The Avs cruised from there and blew out the Coyotes by a 6-2 margin.

Coyotes Hitting the Road Again

After enjoying the holiday break, the Coyotes will get back to work on Wednesday against the same Avalanche squad they faced off against in their previous game. After the events of Saturday night, there could be some fireworks at the Pepsi Center between the two teams – keep an eye on this one. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. in Denver.

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes will return home on Thursday and will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Gila River Arena. The ‘Yotes won a controversial game at the Air Canada Centre back on Nov. 20, so they’ll be looking to sweep the season series in this one. Phoenix native Auston Matthews will also be looking to exact a bit of revenge upon his hometown team, as his negated goal earlier this season was the turning point in an eventual 4-1 Coyotes victory. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. in the Valley of the Sun.

Auston Matthews, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Prior to ringing in the new year, the Coyotes will be in action on New Years’ Eve against the Anaheim Ducks. The two teams previously met way back on Oct. 5, when Arizona blew a 4-1 lead and lost in overtime, 5-4, in a game which set the tone for how the rest of the season would go in the desert. Puck drop is scheduled for 1:00 P.M. local time in Anaheim (2:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Keller & Stepan Heating Up

Although the Coyotes continued to struggle as a team, two players in particular enjoyed solid individual performances last week.

Derek Stepan scored three goals (including two shorthanded tallies) in the three games prior to the holiday break, and moved into second among all Coyotes skaters in scoring as a result. Stepan scored both ‘shorties’ against the Avalanche on Saturday, making him only the third player in franchise history to score two shorthanded goals in the same game.

Stepan got off to a bit of a slow start in Arizona, but he’s on pace for yet another workmanlike season. He’s recorded at least 44 points in each of his seven previous NHL campaigns, and likely will eclipse that total once again this season.

After going through a bit of a slump, Keller has raised his level of play as of late, too. He recorded four points in three games last week, and now has 29 in 38 games on the season.

Clayton Keller Coyotes
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes, Oct. 30, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keller has fallen behind Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser in the race for the rookie scoring title, but he should still be considered as a solid Calder Trophy contender at season’s end. He’s done it all for the Coyotes this season and has emerged as the team’s go-to scorer despite being on the team for fewer than three months.

Pacific Division Roundup

At the NHL’s holiday break, the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings are tied for first place in the Pacific Division. Here’s how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (16-13-8, 40 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (5-3 L at NJ, 4-1 L at NYR, 5-4 OTW at NYI, 4-0 W at PIT)
  • Analysis: Despite being bombarded by injuries all season, the Ducks find themselves in a playoff spot as they exit the holiday break. Once Anaheim gets healthy, watch out – they went 29-11-7 after Christmas last season and are capable of going on a similar run again this season.
  • Player of the week: Ryan Getzlaf – Goal, 6 assists, +1
  • This week: Wed vs VGK, Fri vs CGY, Sun vs AZ
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks, NHL, Milestones
Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Calgary Flames (18-15-3, 39 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-0 (2-1 W vs STL, 3-2 L vs MTL)
  • Analysis: Calgary’s inconsistency continued last week – the Flames are now 4-5-2 in December and haven’t won three games in a row since early November. Glen Gulutzan’s squad will need to string some wins together in order to gain some separation in the Western Conference.
  • Player of the week: Mike Smith – 1-1-0 record, 53 saves on 57 shots (.930 SV%, 2.04 GAA)
  • This week: Thu at SJ, Fri at ANA, Sun vs CHI

Edmonton Oilers (17-17-2, 36 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (5-3 W vs SJ, 3-2 W vs STL, 4-1 W vs MTL)
  • Analysis: Winners of four consecutive games, the Oilers are back in the Western Conference’s playoff race. They’re just four points out of a playoff spot, but they’ll need to navigate through a murderous schedule in the coming weeks, as they’ll play six of their next eight games against current playoff teams, with the other two contests coming against the always dangerous Chicago Blackhawks. Needless to say, the Oilers will need to be at the top of their games in order to stay in the hunt for the postseason.
  • Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 6 assists
  • This week: Wed at WPG, Fri vs CHI, Sun vs WPG

Los Angeles Kings (22-11-4, 48 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-1 W at PHI, 2-1 OTW vs COL, 2-0 L at SJ)
  • Analysis: The Kings picked up two more victories last week to remain tied with the Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division. A 2-1 overtime victory over Colorado on Thursday was arguably the highlight of the week in Los Angeles, as Dustin Brown, who was playing in his 1,000th career NHL game on the night, scored the overtime winner.
  • Player of the week: Jonathan Quick – 2-1-0 record, 96 saves on 100 shots (.960 SV%, 1.34 GAA)
  • This week: Thu vs VGK, Sat at VAN

San Jose Sharks (19-11-4, 42 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-3 L at EDM, 5-4 OTW vs VAN, 2-0 W vs LA)
  • Analysis: The Sharks continue to get the job done – they’ve lost only three times in regulation since Nov. 18 and have allowed just 84 goals this season, the lowest total in the league. As long as Martin Jones and Aaron Dell continue to play well in the crease, San Jose will be a tough team to beat.
  • Player of the week: Kevin Labanc – Goal, 5 assists
  • This week: Thu vs CGY, Sun at DAL
San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Vancouver Canucks (15-17-5, 35 points)

  • Last week: 0-2-1 (7-5 L vs MTL, 5-4 OTL at SJ, 3-1 L vs STL)
  • Analysis: It’s officially panic time in Vancouver – the Canucks have lost eight of their last nine and have fallen behind everyone but the Coyotes in the Western Conference. Injuries have been the main reason for Vancouver’s backslide, meaning head coach Travis Green will have his work cut out for him in the coming months. It’s going to be tough to bounce back with so many key players out of the lineup.
  • Player of the week: Thomas Vanek – 3 goals, 2 assists, +2
  • This week: Thu vs CHI, Sat vs LA

Vegas Golden Knights (23-9-2, 48 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-0 (4-3 W vs TB, 3-0 W vs WSH)
  • Analysis: The Vegas Golden Knights continue to amaze during their inaugural season – they picked up a comeback victory over the best team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Tuesday, then shut out the two-time Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. They’re now riding a nine-game point streak, and will look to stay hot with back-to-back divisional road games to start this week.
  • Player of the week: Shea Theodore – Goal, 3 assists, +1
  • This week: Wed at ANA, Thu at LA, Sun vs TOR

Can Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan stay hot and help the Coyotes pick up a few victories this week?