Coyotes Are Road Warriors (And Generous Hosts)

11-4-3.

7-7-1.

One of these is not like the other.

The first number is the road record of the Arizona Coyotes, while the second is their record within the apparently very friendly confines of Gila River Arena.

There’s not really a good explanation for this – as a general rule, teams in the NHL typically are better at home than on the road. Home coaches get the last change and can control on-ice matchups as a result, while road teams sometimes are fatigued due to travel and back-to-back or three-games-in-four-nights scheduling.

It’s “easier” to play at home than on the road, and records typically reflect this fact over the course of the season. Only five teams posted sub-.500 home records in 2018-19, compared to 13 teams that posted losing road records.

Rick Tocchet Arizona Coyotes
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, this hasn’t been the case for the Coyotes – they’ve struggled badly at Gila River Arena this season, and their home woes are holding the team back from climbing up the standings in the Western Conference.

For example, if the Coyotes had two additional home wins in 2019-20 (and a 9-5-1 home record), they’d be in first place in the Western Conference, with a one-point cushion over the Colorado Avalanche. Instead, they’re tied with the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division, and are just three points ahead of the fourth-place Vegas Golden Knights, who occupy the West’s No. 8 seed.

In particular, Arizona’s 2-5-1 record in their first home game following a road trip is concerning, especially when considering the team is 4-2-2 in the final game of road trips. The Coyotes usually come home with some momentum, but they’ve been unable to convert that momentum into points in the standings.

Something needs to change, and soon.

Coyotes Week in Review

After getting their four-game road roadie started with a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 5, the Coyotes made the trip to Philadelphia for a Thursday night matchup with the Flyers. Alain Vigneault’s group entered this contest as one of the league’s best home teams, with just a single regulation loss through 14 games at the Wells Fargo Center.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel scored twice against the Flyers on Thursday. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, Phil Kessel set the tone early with a power-play goal just 2:25 in, and, after Conor Garland and Matt Niskanen traded goals later in the game, Kessel added the empty netter to lock up a 3-1 Coyotes victory in the City of Brotherly Love.

Speaking of Kessel, the next stop on his new team’s road trip was a visit to his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Friday night. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was the recipient of a video tribute and lengthy standing ovation during the first period, and it definitely was a nice moment to watch on television.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry was perfect against the Coyotes on Friday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

On the ice, goaltenders Antti Raanta and Tristian Jarry stole the show – the first goal of the game wasn’t scored until the 7:13 mark of the third period, when Evgeni Malkin capitalized on a fortuitous bounce off of the end boards to beat Raanta. The Coyotes responded with a furious rally in the offensive zone, but they were unable to solve Jarry, who made 33 saves for a 2-0 shutout victory after Brandon Tanev scored an empty netter in the final seconds.

The Coyotes then traveled to the Windy City to close out their trip with a Sunday night affair at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks. The game couldn’t have started much worse for Arizona – Jonathan Toews scored 53 seconds in before Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik added tallies of their own for the Blackhawks. Chicago native Christian Fischer scored for Arizona in the period, but the Coyotes faced a 3-1 deficit after the game’s first 20 minutes.

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It was all Arizona after that, though – Conor Garland and Carl Soderberg scored power-play goals less than three minutes apart in the second period to bring the game to a 3-3 tie, but, despite firing 47 shots on goal in regulation and overtime, the Coyotes could not beat Blackhawks netminder Robin Lehner for a fourth time, and the game eventually headed to a shootout.

In the skills contest, the familiar duo of Garland and former Blackhawk Nick Schmaltz scored for Arizona, and Darcy Kuemper stood tall at the other end, allowing a goal only to Patrick Kane as the Coyotes ended their road trip with a 4-3 triumph, and with six of eight possible points in the bank.

Nick Schmaltz Arizona Coyotes
Nick Schmaltz scored in the shootout in the United Center on Sunday. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In their first home game of the month of December, the Coyotes welcomed the red-hot Calgary Flames (no pun intended) to Glendale on Tuesday night. Calgary had been on a roll since head coach Bill Peters was relieved of his duties – interim coach Geoff Ward entered the game with a perfect 5-0-0 record behind the bench, and it didn’t take long to realize that this would again be Calgary’s night.

Geoff Ward Calgary Flames
Geoff Ward is still undefeated behind the Flames’ bench. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Coyotes looked tired and sluggish all evening long – Michael Grabner missed an early open-net chance, and Calgary struck seconds later on a Michael Frolik goal. Johnny Gaudreau doubled the lead less than two minutes later, and the Flames went on to a 5-2 victory against a mistake-prone Coyotes group.

A Look Ahead

After kicking off a three-game homestand with an embarrassing loss on Tuesday, the Coyotes will look to get back on track on Thursday evening against the Blackhawks in a rematch of Sunday’s wildly entertaining affair between the same two teams.

Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews Connor Murphy
Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews celebrates with defenseman Connor Murphy. (AP Photo Nuccio DiNuzzo)

Aside from their shootout victory in Chicago, Arizona has enjoyed a recent run of success in this series on home ice – the Coyotes have won two straight over the Blackhawks in their own building, and they’ll look to keep that streak going in this one, which will get started at 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

The Coyotes will then host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday evening in the finale of their homestand. The Devils have been the league’s second-worst team in 2019-20 – their total of 23 points through 30 games is better than only the Detroit Red Wings, as is the club’s minus-37 goal differential.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban hasn’t been able to help his new team. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

These teams met in Newark back on Oct. 25, with the Coyotes taking a 5-3 decision in that one. Overall, Arizona is riding a nice point streak in this series, as they’re 2-0-2 in their last four against New Jersey. Puck drop will take place at 6:00 P.M. in Glendale.

With their homestand in the history books, the Coyotes will wrap up their slate of games for the week with a one-off road contest on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks.

Florida Panthers Bob Boughner Jack Capuano
Former Florida Panthers and current San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes haven’t fared well this season against teams which recently fired a coach, and they’ll be tested again in this area at the SAP Center on Tuesday – San Jose fired Peter DeBoer on Dec. 11 and named Bob Boughner as the interim bench boss, so the Sharks should be a motivated group in this one, which will start at 7:30 P.M. local time in the Bay Area (8:30 P.M. in Arizona).

Pacific Division Roundup

Most of the teams in the Pacific Division have now played exactly 33 games, and the Coyotes still find themselves tied with the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the division, with identical 18-11-4 records.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the division fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (13-14-4, 30 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-2 L vs WSH, 3-2 L at WPG, 3-2 SOW at MIN)
  • Analysis: All three of Anaheim’s games finished with a final score of 3-2 last week, but, unfortunately, the Ducks were able to win just one of them, a shootout victory over the host Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. This group has faded quickly after a hot start – since winning six of their first eight games, the Ducks have won just 7 of their past 23.
  • Player of the week: Ryan Getzlaf – Goal, 3 assists, 7 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs LA, Sat vs NYR, Tue at PHI

Calgary Flames (17-12-4, 38 points)

  • Last week: 4-0-0 (4-3 W vs BUF, 4-3 W vs LA, 5-4 OTW at COL, 5-2 W at AZ)
  • Analysis: The Flames are absolutely rolling right now – they’re 7-0-1 in their last eight games, and they’re getting contributions from everyone at the moment. During this eight-game run, every skater on the team has at least a point, three players are averaging a point per game or better, and both goalies own save percentages better than .925. Can they sustain this success?
  • Player of the week: Derek Ryan – Goal, 5 assists, +4
  • This week: Thu vs TOR, Sat vs CAR, Tue vs PIT
Derek Ryan Calgary Flames
Derek Ryan has been on fire as of late. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Edmonton Oilers (18-11-4, 40 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (2-1 W vs LA, 3-2 OTL vs BUF, 6-3 L vs CAR)
  • Analysis: Is it time to bring back the “Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™” label for the Oilers? Dave Tippett’s squad has surrendered four or more goals in four of the last seven games, and the Oilers are just 2-4-1 in that stretch. This team is one game above .500 in their last 25 contests.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 4 assists
  • This week: Thu at MIN, Sat vs TOR, Mon at DAL, Wed at STL

Los Angeles Kings (12-18-2, 26 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (2-1 L at EDM, 4-3 L at EDM, 3-1 W vs NYR)
  • Analysis: There’s not much to say about the Kings at this point that we haven’t already said in this space – they can’t score, they can’t defend, and neither goaltender has been particularly good so far. Los Angeles is in prime position in the Alex Lafrenière sweepstakes.
  • Player of the week: Drew Doughty – Goal, 2 assists, +1, 10 SOG
  • This week: Thu at ANA, Sat at PIT, Sun at DET, Tue at BOS

San Jose Sharks (15-16-2, 32 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-1 (3-2 SOL at CAR, 7-1 L at TB, 5-1 L at FLA, 3-1 L at NSH)
  • Analysis: What a difference a week makes. Last week, we were talking about San Jose’s 11-3-0 run to climb back into contention, and now, after an 0-3-1 road trip, we’re talking about a coaching change. Out is Peter DeBoer, in is Bob Boughner. There are a lot of problems for the new coaching staff to solve, but the No. 1 issue is still goaltending personnel. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell couldn’t get the job done last season, and they aren’t cutting it in 2019-20, either.
  • Player of the week: Erik Karlsson – 3 assists, 19 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs NYR, Sat vs VAN, Tue vs AZ
San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer
Peter DeBoer could not get the job done in San Jose. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Vancouver Canucks (15-12-4, 34 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-0 (6-5 OTW vs BUF, 4-1 L vs TOR)
  • Analysis: If the Canucks had such a thing as a team song, it would be “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Vancouver hasn’t done much to separate themselves from other teams in 2019-20, but they also haven’t done anything to torpedo their chances yet, either. They’re just kind of hanging in there. “You know, it’s alright, it’s okay. I’ll live to see another day.”
  • Player of the week: Josh Leivo – 3 goals
  • This week: Thu vs CAR, Sat at SJ, Sun at VGK, Tue vs MTL

Vegas Golden Knights (16-12-5, 37 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (3-2 OTL at NYI, 5-0 L vs NYR, 5-1 W vs CHI)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights took a bit of a step back last week, but they’re still 5-1-1 in their last seven games. Most importantly, the team showed signs of life without Marc-Andre Fleury on the ice – prior to Nov. 27, the club had not won a game started by someone other than Fleury. Malcolm Subban went 4-2-1 in Fleury’s absence, though, so perhaps the club has turned the corner when it comes to playing in front of their backup netminder.
  • Player of the week: Reilly Smith – Goal, 2 assists, 12 SOG
  • This week: Thu at STL, Fri at DAL, Sun vs VAN, Tue vs MIN