Coyotes Weekly: A Fruitless Trip to Minnesota

Prior to their recent trip to the State of Hockey, the Arizona Coyotes hadn’t played great hockey over their previous few games, but they were still able to compile a 3-1-1 record in five contests from March 3-10. There was hope that they’d be able to compete against the rising Minnesota Wild, since the teams split a two-game set in Glendale back on March 5-6, but those hopes were quickly dashed at the Xcel Energy Center, as the ‘Yotes scored one goal in 180 minutes of play and left town with no points to show for their efforts. Let’s take a look back at last week’s three-game series in St. Paul, MN:

Coyotes Falter Late, Get Shut Out by Talbot

As previously mentioned, the ‘Yotes and Wild split two games in Glendale earlier in March, and that theme continued in Friday night’s matchup on Minnesota’s home ice, which was a highly competitive affair for the first 45 minutes. Adin Hill and Cam Talbot went save-for-save in a classic old-time goaltending duel, with the Coyotes’ netminder turning aside the first 26 shots he faced, while Talbot denied 17 shots during the same span.

St. Louis Blues left wing Pat Maroon Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill
Adin Hill was outstanding on Friday night in Minnesota, but was a tough-luck loser. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona was hanging tough, but a few plays from Minnesota’s rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov completely changed the flow of the game – he broke the ice at the 5:47 mark of the third period, and this one quickly became another episode of The Kaprizov Show. Kirill gained control of the puck down low in the offensive zone and skated it out to the top of the right circle before letting a shot go – the puck was headed well wide of the net, but it hit Christian Dvorak’s skate and slipped past Hill to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead.

It didn’t take long for No. 97 to strike again – less than 2:30 later, the young Russian fired a shot from essentially the same spot on the ice, and it again deflected off of a Coyote and into the net to double the Wild lead. Arizona was still trailing 2-0 late into the action, and head coach Rick Tocchet pulled Hill in order to try his hand with the extra attacker. The Coyotes had some solid chances at 6-on-5, but Talbot denied them all, and Jonas Brodin eventually put a shot into the empty net with 58.8 seconds remaining to seemingly close out the game.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov collected his first-career NHL hat trick on Friday against the Coyotes. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Wild weren’t done, though, as Kaprizov finished off his first-career hat trick 10 seconds later by firing a one-timer from the left dot past Hill after a Minnesota faceoff win in the offensive zone, and the home team won by a comfortable 4-0 margin.

Coyotes Score Once, but Falter Late

After Friday night’s disappointing outcome for Arizona, the Coyotes were back in action against Minnesota for a matinee affair on Sunday afternoon and were looking for a different result, but we saw more of the same in this one.

The ‘Yotes did manage to get on the board in this one, however, as Phil Kessel was the beneficiary after Lawson Crouse forced Matt Dumba to turn the puck over in his own zone. The puck eventually made its way to the slot, and Kessel beat Talbot five-hole to put Arizona on the board at the 13:27 mark of the opening period.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel broke a seven-game goal drought on Sunday in Minnesota. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This lead would last just about 13 minutes of game time, though, as Minnesota’s Victor Rask buried a puck into a wide-open net after Antti Raanta was unable to handle a Mats Zuccarello backhander from below the goal line. Alex Goligoski was the nearest defender on the play, but Rask beat him to the puck that was lying dangerously in the blue paint and gave it a little tap-tap-tap-a-roo for his fifth of the season to tie the game.

As was the case on Friday, this game was very competitive through the first 45 minutes, but things once again fell apart for Arizona down the stretch. With about 14 minutes on the clock, and the score still tied at 1-1, the puck ended up along the near boards in the neutral zone, and both Coyotes’ defensemen (Jason Demers and captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson) went to play it, leaving the middle of the ice wide open. Sure enough, Kevin Fiala was able to get the puck over to Nick Bonino, and he beat Raanta with a wrist shot after skating in all alone from center ice.

Later in the period, Fiala was able to get on the board with a goal of his own. Five minutes after earning the primary assist on Bonino’s goal, Fiala was on the ice in the waning seconds of a Dryden Hunt high-sticking penalty. He skated the puck into the zone, dropped a pass to Dumba, went to the net, and was there to finish off the give-and-go play after beating Demers to the far post. His power-play goal and ninth tally of the season made it a 3-1 hockey game, and the Coyotes offered little resistance the rest of the way – Minnesota had multiple chances to extend the lead in the waning minutes, and Joel Eriksson Ek finally put the game away with an awarded empty-netter with 4.8 on the clock to send the Wild home with a 4-1 victory.

Coyotes Falter Late, Get Shut Out by Kahkonen

As we previously discussed, Games 1 and 2 in Minnesota were very competitive for the first 45 minutes of action before we saw late collapses from Arizona.

This was not the case in Tuesday’s finale between the teams at the Xcel Energy Center – Minnesota scored on its first shot on goal, as Ryan Hartman put a rebound from a Jordan Greenway shot attempt past an out-of-position Hill to open the scoring at the 1:37 mark. Greenway’s shot went wide of the net and hard off of the glass, but came straight out to Hartman. It’s possible that Hill thought the puck was in the netting, as he was slow to recover – his body wasn’t even facing Hartman when he let the puck go, and Demers was unable to block the shot as the Wild got an early one to start the game.

Ryan Hartman Minnesota Wild
Ryan Hartman scored the eventual game-winner on Tuesday against the Coyotes. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Later in the period, we saw some fireworks – at the 10:48 mark, 6-foot-5 Minnesota defenseman Carson Soucy was whistled for a five-minute major penalty for elbowing Conor Garland in the head. The 5-foot-10 Garland, arguably Arizona’s best player this season, has taken a beating all year long, but the Coyotes had previously done little to stand up for their teammate when these instances of No. 83 being targeted by the opposition took place. That changed on Tuesday – 10 seconds after Soucy left the box, Lawson Crouse dropped the gloves and hit the Wild defender with a barrage of fists.

Crouse was assessed a game misconduct for instigating, but it’s likely that his teammates didn’t mind playing the rest of the game with a short bench – outside of the Feb. 22 game in Glendale between the ‘Yotes and Anaheim Ducks, the Coyotes have done little to answer the bell when the opposition has ratcheted up the physicality, so this was a welcome sight for Arizona.

Back to the game – normally, a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the action isn’t fatal, but the deficit proved to be insurmountable for a struggling Coyotes offense. Don’t get me wrong – they had plenty of Grade-A chances throughout the game, including several breakaways, odd-man rushes, the aforementioned five-minute power-play opportunity, and a 5-on-3 chance, but they were unable to get anything past Minnesota’s outstanding rookie goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen, who shut down all 31 shots he faced on the night.

Kaapo Kahkonen Minnesota Wild
Kaapo Kahkonen improved to 9-0-0 in his last nine contests with Tuesday’s shutout against Arizona. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Offensively, Minnesota was once again able to pull away late – just over two minutes into the third period, Zuccarello beat Hill with a wrister from the left faceoff dot for his fifth of the season. Hill wasn’t screened on the play and probably should have made this save, but, considering Arizona didn’t score, this one simply ended up being insurance for the Wild. Later in the action, Wild captain Jared Spurgeon, who hadn’t scored in his first 25 games, fired a slapshot from the blue line, and the puck made its way through traffic and into the net to provide the cherry on top in a 3-0 Minnesota triumph.

What’s Next?

After an absolute nightmare of a week in Minnesota, the Coyotes will head to warmer climates for their next four games, starting on Thursday and Saturday in Southern California against the Ducks.

You’ll remember that the Ducks and ‘Yotes played a highly entertaining two-game set in Glendale on February 22-24, as Arizona twice came back from 3-0 deficits and won both games 4-3 in overtime. Needless to say, they’ll need to play better this time around at the Honda Center. Three-goal comebacks like the two we saw in Glendale are few and far between, and, with the current state of affairs regarding Arizona’s offense, a 3-0 deficit might as well be a 10-0 deficit for the team right now.

John Gibson Anaheim Ducks
The Coyotes are a better team than the Ducks at the moment, but John Gibson has the potential to steal a game from Arizona if he’s able to return from injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With that said, while it’s true that the Coyotes are struggling to score at the moment and in no way should be looked at as a favorite to win any game, these two events in Anaheim are contests where, on paper, Arizona should have the advantage. The Ducks have won twice in the last five weeks and are circling the drain in the West Division. Compounding their problems is the fact that goaltender John Gibson is currently dealing with a lower-body injury, and likely won’t start Game 1 between these teams on Thursday. If the Coyotes can’t manage to earn at least three points from this pair of games, it might be time to start looking ahead to what they’ll receive in return for their trade chips at the April 12 deadline, while also looking into cleaning house when it comes to the coaching staff.

Once their seven-game roadie is wrapped up, the Coyotes will return to Glendale for two games against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and Tuesday. The Avs are 3-1-0 against the ‘Yotes this season and have outshot Arizona 151-71 in the process – the first four meetings between these teams weren’t competitive, and there’s little reason to believe Arizona will fare any better this time around against a loaded Colorado team that has dominated the Coyotes every time they’ve seen each other in the past 12 months.

Here’s a look at this week’s schedule and start times:

  • Thursday, March 18 at Ducks, 7:00 P.M
  • Saturday, March 20 at Ducks, 5:00 P.M.
  • Monday, March 22 vs Avalanche, 7:00 P.M.
  • Tuesday, March 23 vs Avalanche, 7:00 P.M.

West Division Roundup

The Coyotes are fading fast in the West Division – here’s a look at the clubs they’ll need to beat (and catch) in order to reach the postseason for a second straight year:

Anaheim Ducks (8-16-6, 22 pts, last place)

  • Last week: 0-3-0 (6-0 L vs SJ, 3-1 L vs SJ, 8-4 L at COL)
  • Analysis: How much longer will head coach Dallas Eakins last behind the Ducks’ bench? His team has won twice in the last 34 days and blew too many multi-goal leads to count during that span as well. Anaheim is wasting John Gibson’s prime years – this offseason and draft will be critical, as they need to get this thing turned around quickly.
  • Player of the week: Adam Henrique – Goal, 2 assists, +1
  • This week: Thu vs AZ, Sat vs AZ, Mon at MIN, Wed at MIN

Colorado Avalanche (17-8-2, 36 pts, 3rd place)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (2-0 W vs LA, 4-1 W vs LA, 8-4 W vs ANA)
  • Analysis: Thanks to the play of goaltender Philipp Grubauer, the Avalanche are riding one of the league’s longest hot streaks – since starting 3-3-0, they’re 14-5-2 in their last 21 games, which is the seventh-best record in the league over that span. Grubauer himself has stood on his head in recent action – he had a stinker against Arizona on March 8, allowing 3 goals on 14 shots, but, since then, he’s allowed only two goals in 224 minutes of action. The Avs desperately need a reliable backup goaltender, as Hunter Miska just isn’t getting it done, but that’s just about their only weakness at the moment.
  • Player of the week: Philipp Grubauer – 3-0-0 record, 60 saves on 61 shots (.984 SV%, 0.38 GAA), 1 shutout
  • This week: Thu vs MIN, Sat vs MIN, Mon at AZ, Tue at AZ
Philipp Grubauer Colorado Avalanche
Philipp Grubauer will contend for the Vezina Trophy when it comes time to vote for the NHL’s awards. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Kings (12-10-6, 30 pts, 5th place)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (2-0 L at COL, 4-1 L at COL, 4-1 W vs STL)
  • Analysis: Cal Petersen started all three games for LA last week and has continued to provide stellar goaltending to the Kings, but he’s not getting much support from his teammates as of late – he stopped 44 of 45 shots in Friday’s game against Colorado, but was saddled with the loss after his teammates couldn’t get a puck into the net for him. If Los Angeles can figure out how to score goals on a consistent basis, they could potentially sneak into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed this year.
  • Player of the week: Cal Petersen – Assist, 1-2-0 record, 100 saves on 105 shots (.952 SV%, 1.68 GAA)
  • This week: Fri vs VGK, Sun vs VGK, Mon at SJ, Wed at SJ

Minnesota Wild (18-8-1, 37 pts, 2nd place)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (4-0 W vs AZ, 4-1 W vs AZ, 3-0 W vs AZ)
  • Analysis: The Wild have had a few stinkers mixed in since they returned from their COVID-19 pause on Feb. 16, but they’ve been one of the best teams in the league since then – their .781 points percentage is the second-best in the NHL during that span, and they’ve allowed only four goals in their last five games. If Kaapo Kahkonen can continue his outstanding play, there’s no telling how far this team can go into the playoffs this summer.
  • Player of the week: Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen – 3-0-0 combined record, 1 shutout each vs AZ
  • This week: Thu at COL, Sat at COL, Mon vs ANA, Wed vs ANA
Kaapo Kahkonen Minnesota Wild
Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen is one of two Calder Trophy candidates in Minnesota this season, along with teammate Kirill Kaprizov. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

San Jose Sharks (11-13-3, 25 pts, 7th place)

  • Last week: 2-2-0 (6-0 W at ANA, 3-1 W at ANA, 2-1 L at VGK, 5-4 L at VGK)
  • Analysis: The Sharks had an up-and-down week – they demolished the Ducks twice at the Honda Center over the weekend to get back to .500, but then lost twice to the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena to fall back into seventh place in the West Division. Both Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones had save percentages above .935 over the past four games of action, but playing Anaheim twice probably factored into that stat more than anything else. Can they continue their solid play this week against the Blues and Kings?
  • Player of the week: Evander Kane – 3 goals, 3 assists, +6, 19 SOG
  • This week: Fri vs STL, Sat vs STL, Mon vs LA, Wed vs LA

St. Louis Blues (14-10-5, 33 pts, 4th place)

  • Last week: 0-2-1 (5-4 OTL vs VGK, 5-1 L vs VGK, 4-1 L at LA)
  • Analysis: Has there been a more hot-and-cold team than the Blues this season? They started 7-2-1, then won just 3 of their next 10 games to fall to 10-8-2. From there, they won four straight to seemingly right the ship, but they followed that up by going 0-2-3 in their past five contests to fall to fourth place in the West Division. If they keep this up, they’re going to be locked into a first-round playoff series against the Golden Knights, or, even worse, they’ll fall behind the Kings and drop out of playoff position.
  • Player of the week: Vladimir Tarasenko – Goal, 2 assists
  • This week: Fri at SJ, Sat at SJ, Mon at VGK
St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko
Will the return of Vladimir Tarasenko help spark a second-half run for St. Louis? (AP Photo/Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Vegas Golden Knights (20-6-1, 41 pts, 1st place)

  • Last week: 4-0-0 (5-4 OTW at STL, 5-1 W at STL, 2-1 W vs SJ, 5-4 W vs SJ)
  • Analysis: Last week, we wrote about the Golden Knights’ stumble in Minnesota, as they lost both games to a surging Wild team. However, Vegas erased their setback by picking up all eight possible points last week. They now have a legitimate claim as the top team at the league, and, if they manage to win the West Division to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs, they’re going to be dangerous – they’re 12-2-1 at home despite fans not being present in T-Mobile Arena for most of this season.
  • Player of the week: Shea Theodore – 2 goals, 5 assists, +3, 12 SOG
  • This week: Fri at LA, Sun at LA, Mon vs STL