Coyotes Gaining Separation in the Pacific Division

Through the first 22 games of the 2019-20 NHL season, the Arizona Coyotes are well on their way towards ending a seven-year postseason drought.

Entering Thursday’s action, the Coyotes own the league’s best defense, allowing a paltry 2.23 goals per night. The team has the Western Conference’s fourth-best points percentage, and is tied with the Colorado Avalanche for No. 1 in the West in goal differential at plus-15.

Both of the team’s goaltenders, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, are among the top-10 in the NHL in save percentage (among goalies with five or more starts). The Boston Bruins are the only other team that can currently make that claim.

Arizona Coyotes Darcy Kuemper Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper celebrates with Oliver Ekman-Larsson (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The offense, which is tied for 21st in the league at just 2.77 goals per game, has left something to be desired, but the 2019-20 Coyotes appear to be very similar to the 2011-12 group that went to the Western Conference Final. That year, Dave Tippett led his team, which scored just 2.56 goals per game but allowed only 2.37, to 97 points, a Pacific Division title, and playoff series victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators.

Let’s jump back to 2019 – the Coyotes score more and allow fewer goals than they did in 2011-12, and they’re on pace for more points as well, 104 in fact.

If they can sustain this pace, the Coyotes will easily qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the whiteout will once again return to the Valley of the Sun.

Mikkel Boedker, NHL, Arizona Coyotes, Fantasy Hockey, Powerplay
It has been a hot minute since we’ve seen a whiteout in Glendale, Arizona. (Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

There’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and then, though. So, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Coyotes Week in Review

Following their superb road victories over the last two Stanley Cup champions on Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, the Coyotes returned to the ice on Thursday evening in Minnesota. After blowing a 3-1 lead and losing at home 4-3 to the Wild on Nov. 9, the Coyotes once again struggled against a Minnesota team which entered the game with a 6-11-1 record. Arizona fell behind early and never led, as the teams traded goals in a game that would eventually be won 3-2, with Wild forward Jordan Greenway providing the winning goal late in the third period.

Arizona Coyotes Conor Garland Minnesota Wild Joel Eriksson Ek
Conor Garland scored his ninth of the season on Thursday against Minnesota, but the Coyotes lost, 3-2. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After another frustrating defeat, the Coyotes returned home and kicked off a three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Calgary Flames. The two teams had met earlier in November, when Arizona blew a late 3-1 lead and lost in overtime, 4-3, on Nov. 5, and the Coyotes were determined not to allow a repeat performance in Glendale. Derek Stepan and Carl Soderberg scored less than two minutes apart in the second period, and Lawson Crouse added an empty netter to put a ribbon on Arizona’s 3-0 shutout victory over the division rival Flames.

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Speaking of division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings made their first visit of the season to Glendale on Monday night. The Coyotes wasted no time in jumping all over their struggling opponents in this one, as Conor Garland scored just over three minutes into the game to give Arizona an early lead. Arizona’s struggling power-play unit then came to life – the Coyotes had scored just a single power-play goal in their last 26 chances entering Monday’s action, but they scored twice with the man advantage against the Kings en route to another 3-0 shutout win.

A Look Ahead

With two consecutive shutouts under their belts, the Coyotes will get back to work on Thursday evening, when the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs will come to town. The Leafs entered 2019-20 with Stanley Cup aspirations, but they’re 0-5-1 in their last six games and are a sub-.500 hockey team as of this writing, at 9-10-4. The club has allowed four goals or more in each of their last five games, and they have not yet won a game in regulation against a team that currently owns a winning record. The team’s struggles cost head coach Mike Babcock his job on Wednesday, so the Coyotes will need to play a solid game against what will be a desperate Maple Leafs group on Thursday. The contest will get started at 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe, second left, will coach his first NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Coyotes will then travel to the Staples Center for a rematch against the Kings on Saturday afternoon. Since winning five straight games in LA from Oct. 9, 2015, through April 2, 2017, Arizona is just 1-3-0 on the road against the Kings. However, this Los Angeles team is clearly not playing at the same level that they were in prior years – the Coyotes will be the better team, and they’ll need to continue beating teams that they should beat in order to solidify their position in the Pacific Division. Puck drop is scheduled for 1:00 P.M. Pacific time (2:00 P.M. Arizona time).

After wrapping up their business in Tinseltown, the Coyotes will return to Arizona and will begin preparations for Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who will be in Glendale for the first time this season on Sunday evening. McDavid has been unstoppable as of late – he’s posted 12 points in his last three games entering Thursday’s action, and he’s on a 153-point pace in 2019-20. The scheduled start time at Gila River Arena is 6:00 P.M. – here’s hoping Sportnet’s Mark Spector is able to stay awake through it all.

Connor McDavid,Mikko Koskinen
Connor McDavid and Mikko Koskinen have led the Oilers to an outstanding start in 2019-20. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

To close out the week, the Coyotes will host the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday evening in Glendale in the final game before American Thanksgiving, and the much-publicized “Thanksgiving cutoff.”

Last season, 12 of the 16 teams (75%) that were in playoff spots on Thanksgiving qualified for the playoffs at the end of the season, while only 4 of 15 teams (26.7%) were able to rebound and qualify for the postseason after being out of position on Turkey Day. The Coyotes will be looking to solidify their position in this one, which will be a 7:30 P.M. start at Gila River Arena.

Pacific Division Roundup

We’re finally starting to see some separation in the Pacific Division between the contenders and the pretenders – the Oilers lead the way with 31 points, and the Coyotes are a close second with 28. After that, Vegas, Vancouver, Calgary, Anaheim, and San Jose have 25, 24, 23, 22, and 21 points, respectively.

Anaheim Ducks (10-10-2, 22 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (5-3 L vs SJ, 4-1 W at STL, 5-2 L at WSH)
  • Analysis: The Ducks are barely keeping their heads above water at the moment – they’re 1-4-2 since Nov. 1 and have not been getting good goaltending from John Gibson and Ryan Miller as of late. In October, Gibson and Miller boasted save percentages of .920 and .929, respectively. In November, the numbers have fallen to .899 and .904. That’s not what head coach Dallas Eakins is looking for from his veteran tandem.
  • Player of the week: Rickard Rakell – Goal, 3 assists, 11 SOG
  • This week: Thu at FLA, Sat at TB, Mon vs NYI, Wed at AZ
John Gibson Anaheim Ducks
John Gibson has struggled in net as of late. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Calgary Flames (10-11-3, 23 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (3-0 L at AZ, 6-0 L at VGK, 3-2 L vs COL)
  • Analysis: Is it safe to say the Flames are officially at rock bottom? Because it sure feels like that’s where they’re at. Calgary has been outscored 15-3 over its last 12 periods, and, unsurprisingly, the club went 0-4-0 during that stretch as a result. Mike Babcock already lost his job in Toronto – if the Flames don’t turn things around, is Bill Peters next?
  • Player of the week: No one
  • This week: Thu at STL, Sat at PHI, Mon at PIT, Wed at BUF

Edmonton Oilers (14-6-3, 31 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-1 (6-2 W vs COL, 5-4 OTL vs DAL, 5-2 W at SJ)
  • Analysis: The Connor McDavid show was in full effect for all to see last week, as the superstar scored 6, 3, and 3 points, respectively, in the Oilers’ last 3 games. That’s right – 12 points in 3 games. McDavid is seemingly on a different level from everyone else right now, but, somehow, he’s not even the No. 1 scorer on his own team at the moment, as Leon Draisaitl has one more point than his teammate. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Dave Tippett receiving serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award in 2019-20.
  • Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 4 goals, 8 assists
  • This week: Thu at LA, Sat at VGK, Sun at AZ, Wed at COL
Dave Tippett Seattle
Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett is the frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award. (AP Photo/LM Otero, file)

Los Angeles Kings (8-12-1, 17 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (3-2 OTW vs DET, 4-3 W vs VGK, 3-0 L at AZ)
  • Analysis: The Kings made a bit of a run last week, winning three straight to gain a bit of momentum, but they promptly ran into the brick wall that is the Coyotes defense and were shut out. Back to the drawing board.
  • Player of the week: Anze Kopitar – Goal, 3 assists
  • This week: Thu vs EDM, Sat vs AZ, Mon vs SJ, Wed vs NYI

San Jose Sharks (10-11-1, 21 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (5-3 W at ANA, 4-3 SOW vs DET, 5-2 L vs EDM)
  • Analysis: The Sharks dug their way out of a 4-10-1 start by reeling off six straight wins to climb back into the thick of things. However, hidden by San Jose’s offensive success during that stretch was the continued struggles of Martin Jones in goal – despite the 6-0-0 record, Jones posted an ugly .891 SV% and a 2.76 GAA during the winning streak. Don’t expect this to last, San Jose. This has all the characteristics of a dead cat bounce, where a stock (or, in this case, team) temporarily recovers from a severe decline before continuing to decline further shortly thereafter.
  • Player of the week: Logan Couture – Goal, 5 assists, +3
  • This week: Thu at VGK, Sat vs NYI, Mon at LA, Wed vs WPG

Vancouver Canucks (10-8-4, 24 points)

  • Last week: 0-2-1 (4-2 L vs DAL, 5-4 OTL vs COL, 6-1 L at DAL)
  • Analysis: Vancouver’s slide continued last week – the club earned just a single point across three games of action, and the Canucks now face five consecutive road games to close out November. Vancouver, 1-5-2 in its last eight games, must right the ship before things slip away, as occurred last season, when the club endured a season-killing 1-10-1 stretch in late November and early December.
  • Player of the week: Adam Gaudette – 2 goals, 7 SOG
  • This week: Thu at NSH, Sat at WSH, Mon at PHI, Wed at PIT

Vegas Golden Knights (11-9-3, 25 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 L at LA, 6-0 W vs CGY, 4-2 W vs TOR)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights still haven’t won a game started by someone other than Marc-Andre Fleury, but the veteran rebounded last week, allowing just two goals in two games after surrendering five and four goals on Nov. 9 and Nov. 13, respectively.
  • Player of the week: Max Pacioretty – 2 goals, 4 assists, +6
  • This week: Thu vs SJ, Sat vs EDM, Mon at DAL, Wed at NSH