As hard as it is to believe, we’ve come to the end of yet another NHL regular season. For the sixth consecutive year, the Arizona Coyotes are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but there are reasons for optimism going forward.
Rookie forward Clayton Keller emerged as a legitimate superstar this season, while other young players like Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, and Jakob Chychrun continued to take steps forward in their development. Veterans like Alex Goligoski, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Derek Stepan reminded us why the organization made it a priority to lock them up long-term. We even saw flashes of brilliance from 2015 third-overall selection Dylan Strome, who looks to be ready to play in the NHL full-time next season.
Of course, the play of Antti Raanta was nothing short of spectacular – his .942 SV% since Jan. 1 was the best in the league among starters, while his .930 SV% for the season is the highest among netminders who played at least 35 games this season. Indeed, the Coyotes struggled badly with him out of the lineup – the combination of Scott Wedgewood, Darcy Kuemper, Louis Domingue, Adin Hill, and Marek Langhamer finished the season with a record of 8-24-6, while Raanta himself finished at 21-17-6. Simply put, his performance this season was Vezina-worthy.
Coyotes End Season Against Division Foes
After their resounding 6-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Gila River Arena on Mar. 31, the ‘Yotes hit the road for their final road trip of the season, which began on Tuesday night in Calgary against the Flames. After dealing Glen Gulutzan’s squad a crushing loss back on Mar. 19, the Coyotes again showed the Flames no mercy, as they jumped all over backup goaltender Jon Gillies, scoring four goals on 21 shots en route to a 4-1 victory. Raanta was, rightfully, the first star of the game in this one – he stopped 42 of the 43 shots he faced to steal a victory.
On Thursday, Arizona headed to Vancouver to take on the Canucks in their final home game of the season. It was also the Sedin twins’ final home game – earlier in the week they announced they would retire following the season, and it was an emotional evening at Rogers Arena as a result. Canucks fans came out in droves to support the two Vancouver legends, and they were loud throughout the entire contest.
The Coyotes jumped out to an early lead, though, and looked poised to crash the party as they led 3-1 entering the third period. Goals from Jake Virtanen and Brendan Leipsic sent the game to overtime, and that’s where Henrik and Daniel provided the heroics and created a moment that will last forever. Even as an Arizona resident, it was difficult to be mad about this ending:
The Coyotes returned home following their overtime defeat in Vancouver and hosted the Anaheim Ducks in the final game of the regular season on Saturday night in Glendale. The Coyotes entered the game needing a victory to reach the 30-win plateau – an impressive accomplishment considering they won just nine of their first 41 – while the Ducks entered needing two points to potentially earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite having played the night before, it was the Ducks who struck first, as Adam Henrique tallied a power-play goal in the opening period before Rickard Rakell doubled the lead with his 34th of the season in the second frame. The Coyotes threw 31 shots at Ducks netminder Ryan Miller, but they were unable to solve him yet again (Miller holds a .947 SV% in 15 career games against Arizona, by far his highest total against any team other than the Vegas Golden Knights) as they dropped the season finale by a 3-0 margin.
Pacific Division Roundup
Another season is in the books, and for the first time since the 2011-12 season, we have a division champion other than the Anaheim Ducks. That would be the Vegas Golden Knights, who racked up 109 points in their first year of existence to earn home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Behind them in the Pacific were the Ducks, who made a late charge to leapfrog past the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, who finished third and fourth, respectively. Bringing up the rear were the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Coyotes, who all failed to qualify for the postseason.
Anaheim Ducks (44-25-13, 101 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (3-1 W vs MIN, 5-3 W vs DAL, 3-0 W at AZ)
- Analysis: Once considered a bubble team, the Ducks finished the season with points in 10 of their last 12 (10-1-1) and locked up home-ice advantage over the San Jose Sharks as a result. They’re hot at the right time, but they’re going to be without defenseman Cam Fowler and possibly goaltender John Gibson in the first round. They’re still in good hands, though – 37-year-old backup Ryan Miller has won his past four starts. Can he continue to play well into the postseason?
- Player of the week: Ryan Miller – 3-0-0 record, 80 saves on 84 shots (.952 SV%, 1.33 GAA), 1 shutout
- This week: Western Conference Quarterfinals vs San Jose Sharks
Calgary Flames (37-35-10, 84 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (4-1 L vs AZ, 2-1 L at WPG, 7-1 W vs VGK)
- Analysis: After adding Mike Smith, Travis Hamonic, and Jaromir Jagr over the offseason, the Flames entered the year as one of the Pacific Division’s postseason hopefuls. However, after a bad second half (12-19-6 since the bye week), the season in Calgary ended with disappointment once again. The Flames have now made the playoffs only six times in 13 seasons since their loss in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, and have advanced out of the first round just once over that span.
- Player of the week: Mark Jankowski – 4 goals, +2
Edmonton Oilers (36-40-6, 78 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (3-0 L at MIN, 4-3 W vs VGK, 3-2 SOW vs VAN)
- Analysis: The Oilers’ miserable season is finally over, and fans in Edmonton can now turn their attention to the draft lottery and offseason. They might want to think about shutting off Peter Chiarelli’s phone lines before he makes any more bad personnel decisions, assuming he isn’t fired in the coming weeks.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 5 assists
Los Angeles Kings (45-29-8, 98 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (3-1 W vs COL, 5-4 W vs MIN, 4-2 L vs DAL)
- Analysis: The Kings finished as one of the West’s wild-card teams, but don’t let their seeding fool you – they boast the league’s seventh-highest goal differential and allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season. Defense and goaltending win in the playoffs, and Los Angeles is amongst the league’s best in both areas. Having a healthy Jeff Carter back in the lineup helps, too.
- Player of the week: Dustin Brown – 5 goals
- This week: Western Conference Quarterfinals at Vegas Golden Knights
You can't stop Dustin Brown.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 6, 2018
San Jose Sharks (45-27-10, 100 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (4-2 L vs DAL, 4-2 W vs COL, 6-3 L vs MIN)
- Analysis: The Sharks won eight straight from Mar. 12 to Mar. 26, but they finished the season with losses in five of their last six and will start the playoffs on the road as a result. Unless they turn things around, this could be a quick postseason for them.
- Player of the week: Brent Burns – Goal, 3 assists
- This week: Western Conference Quarterfinals at Anaheim Ducks
Vancouver Canucks (31-40-11, 73 points)
- Last week: 1-0-2 (5-4 SOL vs VGK, 4-3 OTW vs AZ, 3-2 SOL at EDM)
- Analysis: The Canucks had a rough season, but give them some credit – they could have packed it in, but they went 5-0-2 in their last seven games and finished the season on a high note. It’ll be difficult to replace the Sedins going forward, but their final home game was something special to witness.
- Player of the week: Daniel and Henrik Sedin – 2636 games played, 633 goals, 1478 assists
Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7, 109 points)
- Last week: 1-2-0 (5-4 SOW at VAN, 4-3 L at EDM, 7-1 L at CGY)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights had nothing to play for last week, but the play of Marc-Andre Fleury has to be concerning regardless – he let in six goals on 18 shots Saturday against the Flames, and will need to get his act together for the playoffs, where he’s had his struggles in his career (.908 SV%, 2.65 GAA). The Kings have been a different team since the return of Jeff Carter – this won’t be an easy series for Vegas.
- Player of the week: Brandon Pirri – 3 goals
- This week: Western Conference Quarterfinals vs Los Angeles Kings
With the Coyotes out of the playoff picture, this will be the final edition of the Monday Morning Howl at THW this season. We thank you for following our weekly Coyotes coverage all season long, and we look forward to bringing the column back when the 2018-19 season begins in October!