Is it time to hit the panic button in the desert?
The Arizona Coyotes, losers of six of their last seven, are fading fast. They’re dealing with a multitude of injuries and haven’t won in regulation since the first week of this month. They haven’t beaten a current playoff team since a 3-0 shutout victory against the Nashville Predators back on Nov. 29, and they’re beginning to fall dangerously far behind the competition in the Western Conference in the race for the postseason (Arizona is nine points behind Edmonton for the West’s No. 8 seed, and 13 points back of the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific).
After a decent start and a five-game winning streak from Oct. 23 to Nov. 2, which gave fans hope after a miserable 2017-18 season, it’s beginning to look like we’ll be without playoff hockey once again in the Valley of the Sun for the seventh consecutive Spring.
Coyotes Week in Review
After their disappointing 14th consecutive loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 11 in the first contest of a four-game roadie, the Coyotes got back to work on Thursday evening in Buffalo with a matchup against the surprising Sabres. Buffalo quickly took the lead against Arizona, as Casey Mittelstadt scored just 48 seconds in. Jeff Skinner doubled the Sabres’ lead with his 22nd goal of the season at 6:54, and, while Christian Fischer quickly answered with a tally of his own at 7:19 of the first, the Coyotes would come no closer. Evan Rodrigues provided an insurance goal in the third, and the Sabres cruised to a 3-1 victory as Carter Hutton stopped 25 of the 26 Arizona shots thrown his way.
The Coyotes then made the short flight down to Manhattan for a Friday night meeting with the New York Rangers. Arizona once again found themselves in a big hole early, as three New York power play goals in the first 26 minutes gave the Blueshirts a seemingly insurmountable lead against the league’s second-worst offensive team. However, unlike the previous night in Buffalo, the Coyotes made a furious comeback bid – Jordan Oesterle and Josh Archibald scored to cut the deficit to one, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson got the better of his countryman, Henrik Lundqvist, to tie the game with just 3:01 to go. The game then went to overtime, where former Ranger Derek Stepan sent his former supporters home disappointed:
Following their big comeback victory at the Garden, the ‘Yotes traveled to North Carolina to take on the Hurricanes in what was the finale of Arizona’s road trip. One would have thought that the Coyotes would come out with some energy after picking up a huge “character win” in the Big Apple, but Arizona was shut down by a struggling Petr Mrazek, who, after allowing a total of nine goals in his previous two starts, made 23 saves for his first shutout since Feb. 26.
Returning home to face the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Gila River Arena after a week away from the Valley, the Coyotes once again put together a poor performance – they allowed three straight goals after Mario Kempe broke the ice in the first period, and dropped yet another home contest – their third consecutive regulation defeat in Glendale – by a 3-1 score.
A Look Ahead
Following their listless performance against the Islanders on Tuesday, the Coyotes will remain home and will welcome the Montreal Canadiens to Gila River Arena on Thursday evening. This game is one that’s been circled on the calendar since mid-June, when Max Domi was traded to the Canadiens in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. Domi emerged as a fan favorite in Arizona during his three years in a Coyotes sweater thanks to his offensive skills and tenacity on the ice, so he’ll likely receive a warm reception from the Coyotes faithful in Glendale when he makes his return. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.
In their last home game before Christmas, the Coyotes will host the always dangerous Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in Glendale. The Avs already came to town once this season, and they easily dispatched the ‘Yotes as they scored two shorthanded goals in the first period and cruised to an easy 5-1 Black Friday victory over Rick Tocchet’s group. Priority No. 1 for Arizona in this one will be to attempt to slow down the Avs’ top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, who combined for six points in the earlier meeting between the teams. We’ll find out at 5:00 P.M. whether or not they’ll be able to pull off a feat that few NHL teams have accomplished in 2018-19.
The Coyotes will then wrap up their pre-Christmas slate on Sunday evening in Northern California against the San Jose Sharks. The Coyotes played host to the Sharks less than two weeks ago, when they were defeated on home ice by a 5-3 final on Dec. 8. However, Arizona has played well as of late at the SAP Center – they’re 2-0-2 in their last four trips to San Jose. Will they keep that point streak alive? Puck drop is scheduled for 5:00 P.M. local time in San Jose (6:00 P.M. in Arizona).
Pacific Division Roundup
Will the Pacific Division get five teams into the playoffs this year? As of Wednesday, the Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights, and Edmonton Oilers are all in playoff position, with the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Coyotes bringing up the rear. Let’s take a deeper look at how each of Arizona’s division rivals fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (19-12-5, 43 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (6-3 W vs DAL, 2-1 OTW at CBJ, 4-2 W at PIT, 3-1 L at NYR)
- Analysis: Anaheim enjoyed another big week, as they picked up six more points to increase their cushion for a playoff spot in the West to six points. However, a loss to the Rangers on Tuesday in which Kevin Hayes broke a 1-1 tie with a shorthanded goal with 40 seconds remaining definitely stings. Still, the Ducks are 14-6-2 in their last 22 games and have recovered nicely from a brutal start.
- Player of the week: Ondrej Kase – 4 goals, assist, +3
- This week: Thu at BOS, Sat at BUF
Calgary Flames (22-11-2, 46 points)
- Last week: 3-1-0 (6-5 OTW vs PHI, 2-1 W at MIN, 7-2 W at STL, 2-0 L at DAL)
- Analysis: The Flames have lost just twice over their last 10 games, with both defeats being of the shutout variety. In the wins, Calgary averaged 4.75 goals per game. Hockey continues to make no sense, and water remains wet.
- Player of the week: Mark Giordano – 3 goals, 3 assists, +4, 13 shots
- This week: Thu vs TB, Sat vs STL
Edmonton Oilers (18-14-3, 39 points)
- Last week: 1-2-1 (5-4 OTL at WPG, 4-1 W vs PHI, 4-2 L at VAN, 4-1 L vs STL)
- Analysis: Despite losing two straight in regulation to close out the week, the Oilers still find themselves in playoff position through 35 games thanks to their recent six-game point streak. Edmonton has been better since hiring Ken Hitchcock, but, in a top-heavy Pacific Division, it could be tough to move any higher in the standings than a wild-card spot at this point.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 2 goals, 4 assists
- This week: Sat vs TB
Los Angeles Kings (12-20-3, 27 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (4-1 L at CBJ, 4-3 OTL at PIT, 4-1 W vs WPG)
- Analysis: Things are bleak in Los Angeles at the moment, and it’s hard to see things getting better due to the Kings’ salary cap constraints. Soon-to-be 34-year-old Jeff Carter, who is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap-hit of $5.27 million, has six goals and nine assists in 35 games. 31-year-old Anze Kopitar, who won’t be a free agent until 2024, is making $10 million and hasn’t been the dominant player he was last season thus far. 32-year-old goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has struggled badly to stay healthy in recent years, is signed until 2023 at $5.8 million and owns a sub-.900 save percentage in 13 starts, with just three wins. And let’s not even get started on Dion Phaneuf, who, with just a single point and a minus-17 rating in 32 games, is owed $5.25 million a season until 2021. With Drew Doughty’s $88 million contract extension looming on the horizon, there isn’t much room for the Kings to restructure or rebuild their roster. The two Stanley Cups were nice, but Los Angeles will be paying for those championships for years to come.
- Player of the week: Alex Iafallo – 2 goals, 2 assists, +2
- This week: Sat at SJ, Sun at VGK
San Jose Sharks (19-11-5, 43 points)
- Last week: 3-0-0 (3-2 W vs DAL, 7-3 W at CHI, 4-0 W at MIN)
- Analysis: The Sharks have rattled off five straight wins, scoring 24 goals in the process, to close the gap on the red-hot Flames out West. Despite all of their recent success, the Sharks haven’t won a division since the 2010-11 season – could this be the year they break that streak?
- Player of the week: Logan Couture – 3 goals, 3 assists, +4
- This week: Thu vs WPG, Sat vs LA, Sun vs AZ
Vancouver Canucks (16-17-4, 36 points)
- Last week: 2-1-1 (4-3 OTL at NSH, 5-1 W vs PHI, 4-2 W vs EDM, 5-2 L vs TB)
- Analysis: Vancouver stayed hot early last week, picking up five points in their first three games to get back to .500 after an absolutely brutal month of November. A 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the week looks bad on paper, but this one came right down to the wire before Steven Stamkos iced the game late in the third with his 17th goal of the season. A six-game road trip looms on the other side of the Christmas Break – can Vancouver pick up at least three points in their next two to gain some confidence before that trip?
- Player of the week: Brock Boeser – 3 goals, 3 assists
- This week: Thu vs STL, Sat vs WPG
Vegas Golden Knights (19-15-2, 40 points)
- Last week: 2-1-1 (3-2 W at NYI, 5-4 OTL at NJ, 4-3 OTW at NYR, 1-0 L at CBJ)
- Analysis: Vegas continued to play solid hockey last week, as they picked up five points on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip. They’ll now return home to the friendly confines of T-Mobile Arena, where they’re 10-3-1 this season, for four straight – this could be where they make their run and get back into the conversation in the Pacific Division.
- Player of the week: Jonathan Marchessault – Goal, 3 assists, 14 shots
- This week: Thu vs NYI, Sat vs MTL, Sun vs LA
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.