The 2021-22 NHL season has finally kicked off, and the Arizona Coyotes started their season in Columbus with a road date against the Blue Jackets. On an emotional night in which the Jackets honored goalie Matīss Kivlenieks, who passed away on July 4 after a tragic fireworks accident, the Coyotes never found any sort of rhythm en route to an 8-2 loss.
There were a few bright spots, though, and in many ways, the game didn’t feel like a typical 8-2 blowout. The Coyotes seemed pretty comfortable in new coach Andre Tourigny’s offensive system, considering they outshot the Blue Jackets 38-26 and had long stretches of offensive zone control. Still, Columbus seemed to bury every high-quality scoring chance it had, and goalie Carter Hutton had little-to-no chance on many — if not most — of the goals scored on him.
Regardless, it’s just one game, but even though the full picture of how the Coyotes will fare this season can’t quite be seen in its entirety, there are some things to take away prior to Saturday’s game in Buffalo.
The Team is On Board With Tourigny’s Offense
The Coyotes managed just two goals on Thursday, tallies by Anton Stralman and Clayton Keller, but did have many quality scoring chances against Blue Jackets netminder Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins made a number of key saves shortly after Arizona cut its deficit to two early in the second period, making it that much more difficult to climb back into it.
Columbus then scored twice more, and it was basically lights out heading into the third.
Despite the lack of goals, the team seemed to function well offensively by maintaining possession, cycling the puck, and finding the open shooting/passing lanes. Keller, who scored a power play goal with just over three minutes left in the third period, had rave reviews for the system when addressing the media in the postgame press conference.
“We’ve all bought into the system,” he said. “Everyone loves playing it, so it’s just a matter of execution, communicating, and trusting your teammates, and we’re only going to get better.”
The Defense & Penalty Kill Need Work
Yes, the Coyotes had some bad luck. But a six-goal loss doesn’t happen by accident, and though there’s no need to overreact, there’s plenty that needs to be addressed before the puck drops against the Sabres. Stralman lamented that the team took its foot off the gas at points throughout the night, which was a huge mistake against a team with the firepower that Columbus has.
“We definitely gave them too much time and space offensively,” he said in the postgame press conference. “We backed off, instead of putting that pressure, and that’s what we want. We want to play a high-pressure game.”
Though that will certainly be a focus heading into Saturday, there’s plenty more to be addressed, too. The Blue Jackets were 2-for-3 with the man advantage, and scored eight goals on just 26 shots. Simply put, the Coyotes need their defense and penalty kill to become more reliable in a hurry.
Though Hutton’s save percentage of .692 needs to drastically increase, and fast, he had little chance on most of the shots that found the back of the net.
“It was not the kind of game you want to give to your goalie to get going a little bit,” Tourigny said in the postgame press conference. “Like I said, we had a hole in our game, and we paid for it. That’s not on Carter. You don’t lose 8-2 because of one guy.”
Truer words were never spoken, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt if Hutton could steal away a goal or two in the future.
The White Kachina Jerseys Are Glorious
At long last, the Coyotes’ white Kachina jerseys are back, and they made their return to the regular season rotation last night.
Watching the team play in those jerseys brought back a flood of memories, and the nostalgia alone was enough to get fans excited about the team’s rebranding effort. Sure, the boost from extra jersey sales is something for the team to look forward to, but they sure do look good, even in a losing effort.
There was a little bit for everyone in Thursday’s loss, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. Arizona is a young, rebuilding team, with a brand new coaching staff, playing a brand new system. Though the six-goal loss isn’t anything to be excited about, last night was just the first of 82 games this season.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.