There are just 16 games remaining in the 2019-20 regular season for the Arizona Coyotes, and the team finds themselves in a perilous position when it comes to ending a seven-year postseason appearance drought and qualifying for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The ‘Yotes have won just five times over the last 43 days, and are 5-9-3 in 17 games across that span. The club has scored two goals or fewer in 11 of those 17 games, and lit the lamp more than three times in a game just once.
Obviously, things aren’t going great in the desert at the moment, and the Coyotes have sunk to 10th place in the Western Conference as a result. According to the standings, the club is in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West, but, in reality, Arizona is at a huge disadvantage because they’ve played more games than everyone else.
Significantly more games, in fact – the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets have one game in hand, while the eighth-place Nashville Predators have four games in hand. Meanwhile, the 11th-place Minnesota Wild, who are just three points back, also have four games in hand. In the Pacific Division, the Coyotes trail the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers by just four points, but they’ve played four and two more games, respectively, than those clubs.
The team is now on pace for 87 points, one year after earning 86 points in what many wrote off as an injury-ravaged campaign. This year, while there have been injuries, the team’s struggles have not been caused by players being out of the lineup, but rather from the players in the lineup.
Phil Kessel is in the midst of a career-worst year – some regression was expected since he’s no longer playing with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. He’s on pace to score 43 points – barely half of his 82-point output from last season.
We’ve also seen a decline in the play of Derek Stepan for the second year in a row – he posted 56 points in 2017-18 in his first year in the desert, but, after a 35-point 2018-19 campaign, he has not rebounded, as he’s once again on a similar, decreased scoring pace.
Additionally, young players like Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz are not producing points at a rate that is expected for players at their salary level. Schmaltz is in the first year of a contract paying him $5.85 million annually over the next seven years, and has just 42 points, including 7 points over his last 22 games. Keller, who will make $7.15 million on an eight-year deal starting in 2020-21, has 40 points on the year, but just 8 over his last 22.
The Coyotes are paying Schmaltz and Keller to be impact players every night, but they’ve simply disappeared when the games have started to matter most.
Since general manager John Chayka was forced to stand pat at the trade deadline due to salary cap constraints, Arizona will need their own players to improve their play, or else the road to the playoffs will not be easy. Of the 16 games that the Coyotes have left on the schedule, seven will come against non-playoff teams, including two against the Winnipeg Jets, a team which is ahead of the ‘Yotes in the standings. The other nine contests will come against current playoff teams, including three against the Canucks and two against the Vegas Golden Knights, who both occupy playoff spots in the Pacific.
We figure that the Coyotes will need to win at least five of those seven games against non-playoff teams, and five of their remaining nine games against playoff clubs to surpass the 90-point barrier that typically denotes the cutoff line in the West.
In the last four seasons, only two Western Conference clubs reached 90 points and failed to reach the postseason. The Coyotes must earn some combination of 20 points in 16 games (9-5-2 or better) to reach that benchmark, and even that’s no guarantee considering how many teams are fighting for playoff spots at the moment. The cutoff line could easily swell to 92 or 93 points, meaning Arizona could potentially have to earn nearly 70 percent of their remaining possible points to qualify.
Are the Coyotes capable of going on that sort of run down the stretch? Sure they are. We already saw them do it earlier in the season.
Does a late playoff push for this group look likely after the last three months of sub-par hockey we’ve seen? Absolutely not.
This team fell apart when Darcy Kuemper went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 19, and it wasn’t because of the goaltending, as Antti Raanta and Adin Hill both provided above-average play (848 combined saves on 921 shots in 28 games – a combined save percentage of .921) in Kuemper’s absence. The Coyotes need to figure out a way to score some goals and help out their goaltenders, or else they’ll be playing golf in early April for the eighth consecutive spring.
Coyotes Week in Review
After a frustrating 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 19, the Coyotes were right back in action the next night against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues at the Enterprise Center. Arizona was on the second half of a back-to-back in this one, but that shouldn’t excuse this absolutely listless effort – the team was outshot by St. Louis by a 46-14 margin, and only stellar play from Raanta kept the Coyotes in this one.
He made 45 saves, but allowed a goal to Ryan O’Reilly with exactly eight minutes remaining, which ultimately proved to be insurmountable for the Coyotes, who lost 1-0 in one of their worst games in recent memory.
The ‘Yotes then returned home and kicked off a three-game homestand on Saturday night against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning. Jon Cooper’s squad came into this one with a ridiculous 23-3-1 record over their last 27 games, and, after Arizona’s dreadful showing in their previous game, it would have been easy to write them off heading into this Kachina Saturday contest.
However, the Coyotes showed that life is full of surprises, as they jumped all over one of the league’s best teams and lit up Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for 7 goals on 41 shots in an outstanding 7-3 home-ice triumph.
Looking to build upon Saturday’s big win over the Bolts, the Coyotes were back in action on Tuesday evening against Joel Quenneville and the Florida Panthers. The Cats entered this game fighting for their playoff lives in the Eastern Conference – big offseason acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky struggled to a .898 save percentage and 3.29 goals-against average through 47 appearances entering Tuesday, and he is a big reason why the Panthers are on the playoff bubble instead of comfortably in the field.
However, on this night, Bobrovsky played like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner he is – he turned aside 37 of the 38 Arizona shots he saw, and a third-period power-play goal from Mike Hoffman after an Oliver Ekman-Larsson tripping penalty gave Florida a lead they’d never relinquish as they shut Arizona down and left Glendale with a 2-1 win.
A Look Ahead
After a hectic few weeks, this one will be a relatively light one for the Coyotes – they won’t play again until Saturday, when they’ll wrap up their three-game homestand against the Buffalo Sabres. It’s been another rough year in Upstate New York, as the Sabres once again got out to a good start, but have once again faltered down the stretch.
The Sabres likely will not qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, but they’ve been better as of late, as they’re 6-3-1 over their last 10 contests. This matchup, featuring the two teams in the NHL which own the longest two postseason droughts, will get started at 6:00 P.M. in Glendale.
Following another lengthy three-day break from game action, the Coyotes will hit the road and will begin a three-game Western Canada roadie on Wednesday evening against the Vancouver Canucks. Travis Green’s club has consistently held onto a playoff spot for most of the 2019-20 season, but the Canucks could be vulnerable after losing starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom to a lower-body injury.
Vancouver will now proceed with Thatcher Demko and Louis Domingue in net, and, if the Coyotes have any desire to reach the playoffs, the Canucks are a team they might need to catch in the standings. This important Pacific Division contest will get started at 7:30 P.M. local time at Rogers Arena (8:30 P.M. in Arizona).
Pacific Division Roundup
We have another lead change to report in the Pacific Division – the Golden Knights are now on top, but their position is nowhere near secure. Here’s a look at how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (25-30-8, 58 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (1-0 L vs COL, 6-5 OTL vs VGK, 4-3 OTW vs EDM)
- Analysis: The Ducks aren’t going to the playoffs in 2020, but they’re still playing hard every night. Give them credit for forcing overtime against a red-hot Vegas team, as well as triumphing in 3-on-3 action over an Oilers squad with Connor McDavid back in the lineup last week. Head coach Dallas Eakins has this team moving in the right direction.
- Player of the week: Adam Henrique – 3 goals, 3 assists, +4
- This week: Fri vs PIT, Sun vs NJ, Tue at CHI, Wed at COL
Calgary Flames (33-25-6, 72 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 L vs BOS, 4-2 W at DET, 5-2 W at BOS)
- Analysis: One would assume that the Flames would take a few steps back without captain Mark Giordano in the lineup, but that has not been the case – the club has rallied to win 6 of 10 games since the 2019 Norris Trophy winner went down with a lower-body injury on Feb. 4, and they’re hanging around in the playoff race as a result.
- Player of the week: Mikael Backlund – 4 goals, 2 assists, +3
- This week: Thu at NSH, Sat at TB, Sun at FLA, Wed vs CBJ
Edmonton Oilers (33-23-8, 74 points)
- Last week: 1-2-1 (5-3 L vs MIN, 4-2 W at LA, 4-3 OTL at ANA, 3-0 L at VGK)
- Analysis: The Oilers have stumbled a bit as of late, but they’re still managing to earn points. They’re just 1-2-2 in their last five games, and Connor McDavid’s return to the lineup has not yet provided a significant boost to Edmonton’s offense, as they’ve scored only seven times in three games since. No. 97 has factored in on six of those goals, but the team’s secondary scoring has gone silent with McDavid back in action.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – Goal, 5 assists, +1
- This week: Sat vs WPG, Mon at NSH, Tue at DAL
Los Angeles Kings (23-35-6, 52 points)
- Last week: 2-1-1 (5-4 W vs FLA, 2-1 SOL vs COL, 4-2 L vs EDM, 2-1 W vs PIT)
- Analysis: The Kings had a solid week on the ice – they played spoiler twice with wins over two playoff hopefuls in the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins and earned a point against a tough Colorado Avalanche squad. In doing so, they retained their hold on 30th place in the league – they won’t “catch” the Detroit Red Wings, but they will have a solid shot at landing the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft.
- Player of the week: Gabriel Vilardi – Goal, 2 assists
- This week: Sat vs NJ, Sun at VGK
San Jose Sharks (26-33-4, 56 points)
- Last week: 0-4-0 (2-1 L at NJ, 3-2 L at NYR, 4-1 L at NYI, 4-2 L at PHI)
- Analysis: Last week, we mentioned that the Sharks were making progress, as they were 4-2-0 over their last six contests. So much for that – San Jose lost all four of their games in regulation, and has now dropped five in a row. Barring a miracle finish, this will be the first season since 2002-03 during which the Sharks failed to win at least 40 games.
- Player of the week: Joe Thornton – 2 goals
- This week: Thu vs NJ, Sat vs PIT, Tue vs TOR
Vancouver Canucks (34-22-6, 74 points)
- Last week: 2-0-0 (9-3 W vs BOS, 4-3 OTW at MTL)
- Analysis: The Canucks picked up two nice wins over the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens last week, but the story is the health of goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who will miss at least two weeks (and maybe more) after suffering a lower-body injury that required surgery. His play has thrust him into the Vezina Trophy conversation – will Vancouver be able to survive without him?
- Player of the week: Tyler Toffoli – 3 goals, assist, +3
- This week: Thu at OTT, Sat at TOR, Sun at CBJ, Wed vs AZ
Vegas Golden Knights (35-22-8, 78 points)
- Last week: 4-0-0 (5-3 W vs TB, 5-3 W vs FLA, 6-5 OTW at ANA, 3-0 W vs EDM)
- Analysis: It’s now official – Vegas is the hottest team in the league. They’ve won seven straight games to open up a four-point lead in the Pacific, and they’re very much looking like a team that is capable of going on a deep postseason run in 2020.
- Player of the week: Max Pacioretty – 3 goals, 3 assists, +2, 16 SOG
- This week: Fri vs BUF, Sun vs LA, Tue vs NJ
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.