As the calendar has flipped to 2020, many people out there are setting resolutions for the New Year. Whether they involve changing current habits, or breaking bad ones, January is a month where a lot of people attempt to change things about themselves.
The Arizona Coyotes should be no different – they had a solid 2019, but they’ll need to be better in 2020 if they want to accomplish their goals and get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in eight years.
With that said, we at The Hockey Writers decided to pick a few New Year’s Resolutions for the Coyotes to follow as they embark upon the 2020 portion of their schedule:
Win on Home Ice
The Coyotes’ play on home ice was a huge problem in 2019, and it’ll need to be a strength in 2020 if Arizona wishes to remain in contention for a playoff spot.
With a 9-10-1 record at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes are one of just three NHL clubs with a sub-.500 home record, joining the 31st-place Detroit Red Wings and 30th-place New Jersey Devils in this capacity.
This obviously isn’t going to get it done – NHL clubs this season, on average, have a .609 points percentage on home ice. If the Coyotes were playing at that pace, they’d have five more points and would have the fourth-best record in the NHL. They instead find themselves in 12th place, with a very tenuous hold on a playoff spot as a result.
Making Gila River Arena a tougher place to play for the opposition should be the Coyotes’ No. 1 priority over the season’s final 40 games.
Get More Scoring From Veterans
The fact that the Coyotes have been able to have success without much production from their highest-paid veteran players has been a welcome development.
How much longer can it continue, though?
“Phil the Thrill” Isn’t Thrilling
Arguably the biggest disappointment this season has been the play of Phil Kessel – the 32-year-old has recorded just 9 goals and 13 assists this year, and, after an 82-point campaign in 2018-19 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, is on pace to produce half as many points in his first season with the Coyotes.
Many were expecting Kessel’s play to drop off, since he wouldn’t be playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Arizona, but no one could have foreseen this significant of a step back for the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
He needs to be better, especially since he typically plays big minutes on the power-play unit with players like Taylor Hall and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Stepan Needs to Step Up
The rapid decline of center Derek Stepan has been and continues to be concerning – the veteran posted 56 points in his first season in the desert in 2017-18. He then followed that up with a 35-point campaign last year, and, so far in 2019-20, is on a 25-point pace.
Not only is Stepan struggling on the scoresheet, but he’s also struggling in the faceoff circle, with a win percentage of just 46.8 percent this season.
That’s not what the Coyotes want to see from a player that carries a $6.5 million cap hit. If Stepan can’t improve his game, he’s a prime candidate to be moved in the offseason.
Although he’s not one of the Coyotes’ higher-paid forwards, the team likely was expecting more than four points from center Brad Richardson through the first half of the season.
“Richie” has been one of the team’s better face-off men in 2019-20, winning 54.7 percent of his draws, but he’s been a black hole in the offensive zone, producing just a single goal to go with three assists in 35 games played.
Richardson has been held without a point in 23 of his last 24 games, and, on the season, has been scoreless in 32 of 35 contests. After he led the team in goals with 19 last season, it’s safe to say that the Coyotes likely were expecting more from the 34-year-old in 2019-20.
Overall, the Coyotes need more from these three veterans. If Kessel, Stepan, and Richardson can’t improve their play, it’s going to be difficult for Arizona to gain any separation in the standings as the playoff races begin to heat up.
Give Hayton a Shot
19-year-old rookie forward Barrett Hayton hasn’t played a game for the Coyotes since Nov. 29, but, after his showing thus far in the 2020 World Junior Championship, that’s a statistic that should change once he returns from the tournament.
Hayton has been, arguably, the WJC’s best player so far – through five games, Hayton has collected five goals and four assists, and is Canada’s leading scorer. Hayton will have at least two more games to add to his totals, with Canada guaranteed a spot in either the gold medal or bronze medal game following their semi-final matchup with Finland on Jan. 4 after their 6-1 victory over Slovakia on Jan. 2
Once Hayton returns from the World Juniors, he needs to be a regular in head coach Rick Tocchet’s lineup. With other regular forwards like Stepan, Richardson, and Christian Fischer struggling to produce in the offensive zone, this might be a good time to give some of those players nights off in favor of the young, promising Hayton.
The Coyotes already burned the first year of Hayton’s entry-level contract. It doesn’t make sense to send the kid back to the OHL now – let’s see what he can do at the NHL level following a dominant performance in the WJC.
Coyotes Week in Review
After returning from the NHL-mandated Christmas break, the Coyotes headed to Las Vegas and got back to work on Saturday night with a tilt at T-Mobile Arena against the Golden Knights. Arizona entered Saturday’s contest with a 3-0-2 record in their last five games in Sin City, but it became clear early on that the streak would not continue on this night. Taylor Hall took a tripping penalty just six seconds after Vegas killed a Ryan Reaves high-sticking double-minor, and Mark Stone made Arizona pay with a power-play goal.
Stone added another goal later in the period, and Vegas scored twice in the first two minutes of Period No. 2 to chase Raanta. Adin Hill took over and stopped the onslaught, but the Coyotes could only muster a single goal en route to a 4-1 defeat.
The Coyotes then returned home for a Sunday night matchup against the Dallas Stars. Both teams entered this one with very stingy defenses – the Stars were second in the league, allowing just 2.49 goals per game (GA/GP), while the Coyotes, at 2.52 GA/GP, were in third place.
Through the first 50 minutes, the game played out like the defensive slugfest it appeared to be on paper. The Coyotes held a 2-1 lead after getting first-period goals from Taylor Hall and Conor Garland, but the Stars dominated the play the rest of the way. Alexander Radulov tied it up at 10:46, Roope Hintz gave Dallas the lead at 15:51, and Mattias Janmark added the empty netter late to give Dallas a four-goal third period, and a 4-2 triumph in Glendale.
The Coyotes then welcomed the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to Gila River Arena on New Year’s Eve in the final game of 2019. Garland and Tyler Bozak both scored in an opening period which featured 11 shots on goal by both teams, but things quieted down after that.
The score remained tied late into the third period, but Phil Kessel put the Coyotes ahead with a clutch goal off of a St. Louis turnover, and Nick Schmaltz added the empty-netter as Arizona closed out 2019 with a 3-1 victory.
A Look Ahead
After that outstanding victory over the defending champions to close out 2019, the Coyotes will open 2020 with a visit from the 28th-place Anaheim Ducks. The teams have met twice this season, with Anaheim picking up a 2-1 victory in the season-opener on Oct. 3, and Arizona recording a 4-3 shootout triumph in the last game before Thanksgiving on Nov. 27.
On paper, this is a game Arizona should win – the Ducks have a 6-12-2 record away from the Honda Center this season, but, when taking the Coyotes’ brutal home record into consideration, there clearly are no sure-things here. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.
The Coyotes will then wrap up their four-game homestand on Saturday evening, when the Philadelphia Flyers will make their only visit of the season to Gila River Arena. Arizona picked up a 3-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center back on Dec. 5, and will be looking to complete the season sweep in this one.
Overall, the Coyotes have enjoyed a lot of success against Philadelphia as of late – they’re 5-1-2 in their last eight against the Broad Street Bullies, and a win here could potentially get the Coyotes above the .500 mark on home ice, if they’re able to get the win against Anaheim on Thursday. This one will get started at 6:00 P.M. in Glendale.
With their homestand in the books, the ‘Yotes will hit the road for a three-game swing along the East Coast, starting on Tuesday night with a visit to the Florida Panthers. It’s been an up-and-down season for first-year head coach Joel Quenneville – he hasn’t gotten consistent play from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the team’s big offseason acquisition, and the Panthers on the outside of the playoff picture looking in at the moment.
Despite Bobrovsky’s struggles, the Panthers have been able to outscore their goaltending problems on most nights this year. Led by Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, Florida is one of just nine teams with multiple point-per-game scorers. The Coyotes will need to be sharp defensively here – puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in Sunrise (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).
Pacific Division Roundup
The Vegas Golden Knights are occupying first place in the Pacific Division, but have just a two-point lead over the Coyotes, who have a game in hand. The race for the top spot in the division should be a fun one to watch as the season plays out. Here’s a look at how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (16-19-5, 37 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (4-3 W vs VGK, 2-1 OTL vs PHI, 5-2 L at VGK)
- Analysis: The Ducks continued their streak of following up wins with losses last week, as they picked up a home victory over the Golden Knights on Friday, then lost their next two. This team hasn’t won two in a row since Oct. 29 and Nov. 1 – not quite a strategy for success if I do say so myself.
- Player of the week: Devin Shore – Goal, assist, +2, 6 SOG
- This week: Thu at AZ, Sun vs NSH, Tue vs CBJ
Calgary Flames (20-17-5, 45 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (5-1 W at EDM, 5-2 L vs VAN, 5-3 L vs CHI)
- Analysis: Calgary’s slide continued last week – the club is now 2-5-1 in its last eight after going 8-0-1 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 12. Starting goaltender David Rittich has been a problem during the Flames’ recent skid – he posted a .882 SV% and 3.74 GAA last week, and wasn’t sharp in the month of December, as he allowed three or more goals in six of his nine starts.
- Player of the week: Matthew Tkachuk – Goal, 3 assists, 11 SOG
- This week: Thu vs NYR, Sun at MIN, Tue at CHI
Edmonton Oilers (21-17-4, 46 points)
- Last week: 1-1-0 (5-1 L vs CGY, 7-5 W vs NYR)
- Analysis: The Oilers allowed five goals in both of their games last week, but picked up two points thanks to a seven-goal outburst against the New York Rangers on New Year’s Eve. Next up? A five-game road trip, with four games taking place against Eastern Conference opponents.
- Player of the week: James Neal – 3 goals, assist
- This week: Thu at BUF, Sat at BOS, Mon at TOR
Los Angeles Kings (17-21-4, 38 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (3-2 OTW at SJ, 3-2 L at VAN, 5-3 W vs PHI)
- Analysis: The Kings might be near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but they’re embracing the spoiler role, especially in games played at the Staples Center, where Los Angeles boasts an 11-7-1 record this season. Todd McLellan’s group hasn’t given up on the season yet.
- Player of the week: Alex Iafallo – Goal, 3 assists, +2, 10 SOG
- This week: Sat vs NSH, Mon vs CBJ, Wed vs DAL
San Jose Sharks (17-21-3, 37 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (3-2 OTL vs LA, 6-1 W vs PHI, 2-0 L at DET)
- Analysis: The Sharks may officially be at rock bottom now after being shut out by the lowly Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on New Year’s Eve. San Jose was the NHL’s worst team in December, with a ghastly record of 2-9-2. At least it can only get better from here, right? Well, maybe not – the Sharks’ next four games are all on the road against teams with winning records.
- Player of the week: Martin Jones – 1-1-0 record, 47 saves on 49 shots (.959 SV%, 1.02 GAA)
- This week: Thu at PIT, Sat at CBJ, Sun at WSH, Tue at STL
Vancouver Canucks (21-15-4, 46 points)
- Last week: 2-0-0 (3-2 W vs LA, 5-2 W at CGY)
- Analysis: The Canucks, after meandering their way through a six-week span from Nov. 5 to Dec. 17 with a 7-12-2 record, are right back in the thick of things in the Pacific thanks to their five-game winning streak to close out 2019. The team will play 10 of their next 15 on the road, though, and they have been a sub-.500 road team this season. Can this success be sustained?
- Player of the week: Tyler Myers – 2 goals, assist, 6 SOG
- This week: Thu vs CHI, Sat vs NYR, Tue at TB
Vegas Golden Knights (22-15-6, 50 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 L at ANA, 4-1 W vs AZ, 5-2 W vs ANA)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights seemed to have hit their stride over 2019’s final five or so weeks, as they posted an 11-4-2 record from Nov. 27 through the end of the year to end 2019 atop the Pacific Division.
- Player of the week: Mark Stone – 3 goals, 2 assists, +4, 10 SOG
- This week: Thu vs PHI, Sat vs STL, Tue vs PIT
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.