Coyotes Weekly: All-Star Break Promises Much-Needed Health

28 days have passed since the Arizona Coyotes lost starting goaltender and Pacific Division All-Star Darcy Kuemper to a lower-body injury in a Dec. 19 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

The ‘Yotes have played 12 times since then, and, after recording a 20-13-4 record through the first 37 games, they’re just 6-5-1 in those 12 games.

Darcy Kuemper Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes sorely need Darcy Kuemper back in the lineup. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The offense hasn’t been a problem during this stretch – after averaging 2.70 goals per game through the first 37 contests, the Coyotes are scoring 3.08 goals a night since Dec. 19. However, with Kuemper out of the lineup, the defense has taken a step back – the Coyotes are allowing 2.75 goals per game in their last 12 after allowing 2.49 goals per game through Dec. 19.

The team’s 5-on-5 save percentage has dropped to .916 with Kuemper on the shelf, down from .934 through the first 37 games. Individually, Antti Raanta has posted a 4-4-0 record and a .919 SV% in eight starts since Kuemper went down, but Raanta himself is now out with an injury as well.

Adin Hill, the organization’s No. 3 netminder, has played well in a tough situation, posting a .917 SV% and a 2-1-1 record in four starts, but the Coyotes are going to need Kuemper back in the lineup to make any real noise in the Pacific Division. Luckily, a 10-day break is right around the corner – after Saturday’s game in Edmonton, the Coyotes will not play again until Jan. 29.

St. Louis Blues left wing Pat Maroon Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill
Adin Hill has held down the fort in limited action this season as an AHL injury call-up. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The club already has seen defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson return to the lineup after the veteran suffered a cracked fibula back on Oct. 12 – with Kuemper’s return likely to come after the All-Star break, look for the Coyotes to make a strong second-half playoff push as they get healthy.

Coyotes Week in Review

After opening up a three-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Jan. 7, the Coyotes remained in the Sunshine State and took on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday evening at Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
Andrei Vasilevskiy posted a shutout against the Coyotes on Thursday evening. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O’Meara)

The Bolts entered this one on an eight-game winning streak, and it quickly became clear that it would not be Arizona’s night. Alex Killorn and Mikhail Sergachev scored 3:18 apart late in the first period to give Tampa a two-goal lead, Nikita Kucherov scored twice in the second period, and the Lightning and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy cruised to a 4-0 shutout victory.

The next night, the Coyotes were in action once again, this time in Raleigh, North Carolina against the Rod Brind’Amour-led Hurricanes.

Phoenix Coyotes Antti Raanta
Antti Raanta left Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes with a lower-body injury. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Antti Raanta returned to the Arizona lineup after leaving his Jan. 4 start with an injury after two periods, but he was unable to get through this game, either. He stopped just 25 of 28 shots through 40 minutes at PNC Arena before leaving with another lower-body injury, and the Coyotes once again were unable to score, dropping this one by a 3-0 margin.

With a 1-2-0 record in tow, the Coyotes returned home from their East Coast roadie and kicked off a two-game homestand on Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby’s team has been without, well, Sidney Crosby for most of this season after the veteran underwent core-muscle surgery in November, but the Pens entered this game as winners of 13 of their last 17, with a 27-12-5 record overall.

The teams ultimately traded goals in each period in this one – Jared McCann and Conor Garland scored in the opening period, Patric Hornqvist and Taylor Hall lit the lamp in the middle frame, then Derek Stepan and Brandon Tanev tickled the twine in Period No. 3 to send the game to overtime.

Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Tanev
Brandon Tanev scored a late game-tying goal for the Penguins on Sunday in Glendale. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Things eventually went to a shootout, where, in the eighth round, Pittsburgh’s Teddy Blueger beat Arizona’s Adin Hill to give his team a 2-1 lead in the skills contest. Tristan Jarry then denied Carl Soderberg at the other end on the Coyotes’ last shootout try to preserve a 4-3 Penguins victory in the desert.

The Coyotes then welcomed the San Jose Sharks to Glendale on Tuesday night in the club’s final home game before the combined bye week and All-Star break. The Sharks, led by stellar play in goal from Aaron Dell, had won two straight entering this one while allowing just two goals in the process.

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However, Dell’s hot streak would come to an end in the desert. Four Coyotes – Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel, Conor Garland, and Derek Stepan – enjoyed three-point nights in this one, and Arizona scored two late empty-net goals to break things open in what eventually became a 6-3 triumph for the home team.

A Look Ahead

With their pre-All-Star break home slate complete, the Coyotes will finish up the first half with a two-game trip through Canada, starting on Thursday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

Travis Green Vancouver Canucks
Travis Green has done a good job behind the bench in Vancouver this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Travis Green’s group has been one of the hottest in the league as of late, with wins in 9 of their last 12, and they own one of the league’s best home records as well, at 14-5-3. The Coyotes need to bring it in this one – puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time at Rogers Arena (8:00 P.M. in Arizona).

The Coyotes will then travel eastward to Edmonton for a Saturday afternoon contest against the Oilers. After meandering their way through a large part of the season, Edmonton has been playing better as of late – they’ve lost in regulation just once in their last seven games and are back in the conversation in the Pacific as a result.

Edmonton Oilers Dave Tippett
Dave Tippett has the Oilers playing at a high level in 2019-20. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

This will be Arizona’s last game until Jan. 29, so they need to empty the tank and put forth a solid effort in this contest, which will get started at 1:00 P.M. at Rogers Place.

Pacific Division Roundup

We’re nearly 60 percent of the way through the regular season, and the Coyotes still find themselves atop the Pacific Division, with a two-point cushion over the Oilers and Calgary Flames. However, Arizona’s hold on a playoff spot could be considered tenuous, at best – they’re only three points above the postseason cut-off line. There’s no time to sit back and enjoy first place – there’s work to be done.

Here’s a look at how Arizona’s rivals in the Pacific fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (17-24-5, 39 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (3-0 L vs DAL, 4-2 L at CHI, 4-1 L at STL)
  • Analysis: With just a single regulation win in the last 43 days, the Ducks have officially reached the bottom of the Western Conference by virtue of a solid zero-point week. There are only two NHL teams with fewer than 40 points entering play on Jan. 16 – the Ducks, and the Detroit Red Wings. Yikes. Mercifully, a nine-day break from having to watch or cover this team is right around the corner.
  • Player of the week: Max Comtois – Goal, assist, +1
  • This week: Thu at NSH, Fri at CAR

Calgary Flames (25-18-5, 55 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (2-1 W vs MIN, 4-3 W vs EDM, 2-0 L at MTL)
  • Analysis: Calgary picked up two more wins last week to push their win streak to five, but a shutout loss on Monday night at the Bell Centre gave the Flames their first loss of 2020. Who will step up and take control of the crease as the playoffs draw nearer? All-Star David Rittich, or backup Cam Talbot, who boasts the better statline?
  • Player of the week: Cam Talbot – 2-0-0 record, 71 saves on 75 shots (.947 SV%, 2.00 GAA)
  • This week: Thu at TOR, Sat at OTT
Cam Talbot Calgary Flames
David Rittich was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team, but Cam Talbot has been the better goaltender in Calgary this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Edmonton Oilers (25-18-5, 55 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-2 W at MTL, 4-3 L at CGY, 4-2 W vs NSH)
  • Analysis: Outside of a heated Battle of Alberta on Saturday night, it was another banner week for the Oilers, who are now 5-1-1 in their last seven contests. Mike Smith has been better as of late, allowing two goals or fewer in three of his last four starts. How long can he keep that up for, though?
  • Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 2 goals, 4 assists, +1, 11 SOG
  • This week: Sat vs AZ

Los Angeles Kings (18-25-5, 41 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (5-2 W at VGK, 2-0 L at CAR, 4-3 SOL at TB)
  • Analysis: The Kings received some outstanding goaltending from Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell last week and managed a .500 record as a result. This team hasn’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 17, though – it’s pretty clear that Los Angeles will be open for business as the trade deadline approaches.
  • Player of the week: Jack Campbell – 1-1-0 record, 72 saves on 75 shots (.960 SV%, 1.53 GAA)
  • This week: Thu at FLA, Sat at PHI

San Jose Sharks (21-23-4, 46 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (3-1 W vs CBJ, 2-1 W vs DAL, 6-3 L at AZ)
  • Analysis: The Sharks are playing better as of late, with points in seven of their last ten games (5-3-2), but there’s a huge hole to climb out of at the moment. If Aaron Dell continues to start games in place of Martin Jones, though, the Sharks should continue to make up ground.
  • Player of the week: Aaron Dell – 2-1-0 record, 91 saves on 97 shots (.938 SV%, 2.02 GAA)
  • This week: Thu at COL, Sat at VAN
Aaron Dell - Sharks
Aaron Dell probably deserves to be the starting goaltender for the rest of the season in San Jose. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vancouver Canucks (25-18-4, 54 points)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (5-2 L at FLA, 6-3 W at BUF, 4-1 W at MIN, 4-0 L at WPG)
  • Analysis: The Canucks won twice last week, but bookended their two-game winning streak with blowout road defeats at the hands of the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. Two more home games against Pacific Division foes remain before an eight-day break – the Canucks need a strong finish to remain in a playoff spot at the halfway point.
  • Player of the week: Bo Horvat – 3 goals, assist, 10 SOG
  • This week: Thu vs AZ, Sat vs SJ

Vegas Golden Knights (24-19-6, 54 points)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (5-2 L vs LA, 3-0 L vs CBJ, 4-2 L at BUF)
  • Analysis: What’s going on in Sin City? The Golden Knights have lost four straight, including three in a row at T-Mobile Arena from Jan. 7 to Jan. 11, and head coach Gerard Gallant lost his job on Wednesday. There are three more road games before the combined bye week and All-Star break – can new head coach Peter DeBoer get Vegas back on track before then?
  • Player of the week: Reilly Smith – 2 goals, 12 SOG
  • This week: Thu at OTT, Sat at MTL, Tue at BOS