Well, three games after they got off to an 0-2 start during which they scored just a single goal, the Arizona Coyotes find themselves right back where they started – at the .500 mark.
They’ve righted the ship after struggling offensively in the season’s first week, and they now have a chance to stay hot, with five of the next seven games coming against teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2018-19.
Coyotes Week in Review
Following their tough-luck loss to the Boston Bruins in their home opener on Oct. 5, the Coyotes returned to the ice after a four-day layoff on Thursday evening in Glendale against the Vegas Golden Knights. Arizona entered the game 0-2-2 against Vegas on home ice since the teams first played back in 2017, but the Coyotes wasted no time in jumping all over their desert rivals on this night. Conor Garland and Nick Schmaltz both scored in the opening period and Arizona never looked back from there, cruising to a 4-1 triumph for their first victory of the 2019-20 season.
The Coyotes then packed their bags and kicked off a short roadie on Saturday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. Playing in his first NHL game since Nov. 27, 2018, Antti Raanta held the Avs off of the scoreboard for the first 46:57 of the game, becoming the first netminder to shut out Colorado in a period in what was their fourth game of the year. The Avs’ potent offense finally struck in the third period with two quick goals, though, but the Coyotes responded. Michael Grabner and Schmaltz buried goals to send the game to overtime, where the Avalanche prevailed on an Andre Burakovsky goal, 3-2.
Arizona then journeyed on up to Manitoba for a visit to Bell MTS Place, the home of the Winnipeg Jets, where the Coyotes had been 0-8-2 entering Tuesday’s action. Indeed, Arizona fell behind early on a Mark Schiefele goal, and it was looking like it would again be another one of “those” nights in Winnipeg. However, a goal from Conor Garland very late into the first period gave the Coyotes life, and they scored three more times in the middle frame to open up a three-goal lead, which proved to be an insurmountable deficit with Darcy Kuemper in goal, as he controlled Winnipeg the rest of the way and earned his team a 4-2 victory. The road win was Arizona’s first over the Jets franchise since March 14, 2010, in a game contested by the Phoenix Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers.
A Look Ahead
With three points in tow, the Coyotes will return home from their short two-game road trip and will begin a two-game homestand on Thursday evening when the Nashville Predators come to town. The Coyotes typically play well against Nashville on home ice – they’re 5-1 in the last six meetings in Glendale, although the previous three contests were all decided by just a single goal. Expect another close game between these two Western Conference playoff contenders in this one – puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.
Next up is another Kachina Saturday, with the Ottawa Senators in town this time around. As expected, Ottawa is one of the worst teams in the NHL again this season – they’re 1-4-0 through five games, although they’ve only been outscored by seven goals. The Coyotes have dominated this series as of late – they’re 6-1-1 in their last eight against the team from Canada’s capital city, and they’ll definitely be looking to take two points from the Sens again in Glendale. Note the early puck drop – this one will get started at 4:00 P.M. as part of the Saturday evening Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader.
After wrapping up another short homestand, the Coyotes will head out on a four-game road trip through New York and New Jersey, starting on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Arizona has won only once at the World’s Most Famous Arena since 2008, but the victory came in the Coyotes’ most recent visit there on Dec. 14, 2018, when former Blueshirt Derek Stepan scored in overtime to put his old team to bed. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in NYC (4:00 P.M. local time in Phoenix).
Hayton Gets on the Board
After being a healthy scratch during Arizona’s first two games of the season, 19-year-old center Barrett Hayton made his NHL debut on Thursday against Vegas. Things got off to a bit of a rocky start, though, as the rookie took a tripping penalty just 3:46 into the opening period to put the Golden Knights on a power play. The Coyotes picked up their teammate by killing the penalty, and Hayton himself made up for the infraction by assisting on Schmaltz’s goal later in the period.
Hayton played again on Saturday in Colorado, but was held pointless while firing two shots on goal. He was then a healthy scratch on Tuesday in Winnipeg as the Coyotes escaped with a 4-2 victory.
Obviously, two games is a meager sample size, but the initial returns from Hayton’s game have been positive. In addition to his assist on the Schmaltz goal, Hayton has spent time on Arizona’s power-play unit, he’s recorded two takeaways, and is a positive possession player with a Corsi-For percentage of 70.00%.
We’ll need to see more from him, but it looks like Hayton could already be an NHL player at the age of 19. He needs to stay in the Show this season – the Coyotes need to refrain from optioning Hayton back to his junior team.
Schmaltz Comes Back Strong
Prior to opening night, more than nine months had passed since the last time center Nick Schmaltz suited up for an NHL game.
He sure could have fooled us.
Out since Dec. 30, 2018, after suffering a major knee injury, Schmaltz spent the better part of 2019 rehabbing from his surgery, and was ready in time for the Coyotes’ opening-night game in Anaheim on Oct. 3.
The 23-year-old Wisconsin native looked a bit rusty during the season’s first two games, recording no points and just a single shot on goal in just over 29 minutes of ice-time against the Bruins and Ducks. Since then, though, Schmaltz has clearly rediscovered his touch – he’s scored in each of his last three games, and has recorded two assists as well, giving him five points on the year.
It’s much too early to declare a winner in the trade that brought Schmaltz to Arizona while also sending Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini the other way, but, with Strome producing in Chicago, this swap looks like the rare deal that was a win for both teams.
Pacific Division Roundup
Let’s see a show of hands – who predicted that the Dave Tippett-led Edmonton Oilers would win six of their first seven games this season?
Put your hands down, you filthy liars.
No one saw this coming out of Edmonton, but they aren’t the only surprise team in the Pacific Division so far. Here’s a look at where Arizona’s division rivals stand:
Anaheim Ducks (5-2-0, 10 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (2-1 L at PIT, 2-1 W at CBJ, 4-2 L at BOS, 5-2 W vs BUF)
- Analysis: The Ducks have yet to play a bad game yet in 2019-20 – they’ve won five of their first seven contests, with the losses coming by way of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins. It’s hard to say they’re “back” after just two weeks of play, but Anaheim is off to a good start as they look to return to the playoffs.
- Player of the week: Rickard Rakell – 2 goals, 2 assists, +4, 17 SOG
- This week: Fri vs CAR, Sun vs CGY, Tue at NSH
Calgary Flames (3-3-1, 7 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (3-2 SOW at DAL, 6-2 L at VGK, 3-1 L at SJ, 3-1 W vs PHI)
- Analysis: I said it last week, but I’ll say it again – I’m not sure the Flames are a true contender with David Rittich in goal. It was another up-and-down week for the 27-year-old netminder – he played well against Dallas and Philadelphia, allowing just three goals on 58 shots combined, but the Golden Knights lit him up for six goals on Saturday. For the season, Rittich has made six starts – he’s allowed four or more goals in three of those, while letting in two or fewer in each of the other three. Want to guess the games in which his team was victorious?
- Player of the week: Elias Lindholm – 3 goals, 14 SOG
- This week: Thu vs DET, Sat at LA, Sun at ANA, Tue vs WSH
Edmonton Oilers (6-1-0, 12 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (4-3 SOW at NJ, 4-1 W at NYR, 3-1 L at CHI, 6-3 W vs PHI)
- Analysis: Dave Tippett has to be the early leader for the Jack Adams Award, right? He’s got the Oilers playing solid defense in front of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, and his efforts haven’t resulted in a drop-off in offense, either. Connor McDavid leads the NHL in points with 17 in just 7 games – a 199-point pace. He’ll slow down, obviously, but he has a good chance to be the first 130-point scorer of the 21st century. The last men to break 130? Some guys named Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 3 goals, 6 assists, +3
- This week: Fri vs DET, Sun at WPG, Tue at MIN
Los Angeles Kings (2-4-0, 4 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (7-4 W vs NSH, 5-2 L vs VGK, 2-0 L vs CAR)
- Analysis: The Kings are struggling through six games this season, but there’s no reason to get any Teardrops on Your Guitar over this start. Surely, this team will Shake It Off in time to avoid another season of Bad Blood with their fans. If they don’t, though, the Love Story could come to an end, and some Los Angeles natives may decide that they’re Never Ever Getting Back Together with the home team.
- Player of the week: Dustin Brown – 2 goals, 2 assists, +2
- This week: Thu vs BUF, Sat vs CGY, Tue at WPG
San Jose Sharks (3-4-0, 6 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (5-4 W at CHI, 3-1 W vs CGY, 5-2 W vs CAR)
- Analysis: The Sharks, lifeless after four games, have been a different team since bringing the ageless Patrick Marleau back into the fold. The 40-year-old sparked his team to life in his first game of the season last Thursday in Chicago, scoring two goals on six shots to lead San Jose to their first win of the season. Marleau will undoubtedly fill the leadership void left by Joe Pavelski, but will he continue to produce in the offensive zone after recording just 37 points last season? If he does, Marleau can become just the 50th player to surpass the 1,200-point mark – he’s 31 away.
- Player of the week: Evander Kane – 3 goals, 2 assists, +3, 8 SOG
- This week: Sat vs BUF, Tue at BUF
Vancouver Canucks (3-2-0, 6 points)
- Last week: 2-0-0 (3-2 SOW vs PHI, 5-1 W vs DET)
- Analysis: After losing their first two games of the season on the road, the Canucks won three straight at home to quickly bounce back. A four-game road trip looms ahead, though – can Vancouver keep their momentum going outside of the friendly confines of Rogers Arena?
- Player of the week: Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson – Goal, 3 assists each
- This week: Thu at STL, Sat at NJ, Sun at NYR, Tue at DET
Vegas Golden Knights (4-3-0, 8 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (4-1 L at AZ, 6-2 W vs CGY, 5-2 W at LA, 5-2 L vs NSH)
- Analysis: It was an interesting week in Sin City – the Golden Knights had two blowout wins over the weekend, but they lost their weekday games by a combined score of 9-3. An early concern surrounding this team is their apparent vulnerability on home ice – Vegas is 2-2-0 at T-Mobile Arena this season, after finishing their first two seasons with a 53-22-7 combined record as the home team. Gerard Gallant’s group had a sub-.500 road record last season – if they don’t get things going again on home ice, this team could underachieve in 2019-20.
- Player of the week: Paul Stastny – 3 goals, 3 assists
- This week: Thu vs OTT, Sat at PIT, Mon at PHI, Tue at CHI
With Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta providing playoff-caliber goaltending, can the Coyotes continue to score enough goals to win? They don’t have to score four or five a night, but if they can consistently score two or three goals per game, they should easily earn enough points to break their seven-year playoff drought.
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.