Coyotes on the Right Track, Despite Scoring Woes

The first two games of the 2019-20 season are in the books, and the Arizona Coyotes remain winless, scoring just one goal in the process.

This is familiar territory for Arizona – it’s the third straight campaign where the team has failed to record a victory in the first two games, but this season has a different feel than 2017-18 and 2018-19. Through two games, the Coyotes have outshot the opposition 68-55, out-chanced the opposition 26-20, and have been a positive possession team, posting a 50.94 team Corsi-For percentage (CF%).

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet
The Arizona Coyotes are winless through two games, but head coach Rick Tocchet has his team moving in the right direction. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The penalty-kill unit is just one of three in the NHL to remain perfect. The power-play unit is scoreless, but has had just four opportunities so far.

The problem? A league-worst shooting percentage (S%) of 1.5 percent, well below the NHL average S% of approximately 9.2 to 9.8 percent, which will correct itself as the season goes along. If the Coyotes were getting league-average “puck luck” at the moment, they’d have approximately seven goals this season.

To sum all of that up – R-E-L-A-X. The Coyotes will be absolutely fine this season if they continue to play the game the right way, as they have through 120 minutes.

Coyotes Week in Review

After just missing out on a playoff spot last year, the Coyotes returned to action on Thursday evening at the Honda Center in Orange County with a matchup against the Anaheim Ducks. Derek Grant scored in the first period, but Arizona answered midway through the second, when Derek Stepan ripped a shot past Ducks goaltender John Gibson. Cam Fowler scored late in the period, though, and the Ducks held their 2-1 lead until the final buzzer, sending Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper to a tough-luck one-goal loss.

Derek Stepan Arizona Coyotes
Derek Stepan scored the first (and, so far, only) goal of the season for the Arizona Coyotes in 2019-20. (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes then returned home to Gila River Arena to host the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins in the home opener on Saturday evening. The Coyotes played well, outshooting Boston 35-26 and winning the faceoff battle by nearly a 2:1 margin, but they were unable to get a puck behind goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and Brad Marchand’s first-period goal stood as the only one of the evening, giving Boston a 1-0 victory, which was their 15th consecutive triumph over Arizona.

A Look Ahead

With both the season opener and the home opener in the rearview mirror, the Coyotes will play the third game of the season on Thursday evening, when they host the division rival Vegas Golden Knights at Gila River Arena. The Golden Knights are off to another good start, as they demolished the San Jose Sharks twice before dropping a regulation decision to the Bruins on Tuesday. Vegas is 4-0-0 at Gila River Arena so far – can the Coyotes earn their first home win over the Golden Knights? Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.

Arizona Coyotes Niklas Hjalmarsson Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson covers Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

After wrapping up a two-game homestand, the Coyotes will hit the road for a two-gamer starting on Saturday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. This one has the potential to be a bit of a revenge game – Arizona was fighting for its playoff lives in their last visit to Colorado on March 29, but it was the Avs who walked away with the two points on that night, while the Coyotes were eliminated shortly thereafter. The puck will drop at 7:00 P.M. local time at the Pepsi Center (6:00 P.M. local in Arizona).

The Coyotes will then wrap up their week (and their road trip) with a Tuesday night affair against the Winnipeg Jets. Bell MTS Place has been an inhospitable environment for the Coyotes since the Jets relocated – Arizona is 0-8-2 on the road against Winnipeg since 2011, with the last win coming on March 14, 2010, at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. local time in Winnipeg (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).

Kuemper Stays Hot

The question of who should start the majority of the games in goal for the Coyotes in 2019-20 was one of the biggest questions facing the franchise over the summer.

Arizona Coyotes Darcy Kuemper
Darcy Kuemper has a firm grasp on Arizona’s starting goaltender position. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Well, after just two games, Darcy Kuemper appears to have ended the debate.

With Antti Raanta in the AHL on a conditioning stint (he shut out the Texas Stars on Friday night, making 19 saves), Kuemper got the start in both of Arizona’s first two games of the season. He made 27 of 29 saves on Thursday evening in Anaheim, then allowed just a single goal on 26 shots on Saturday against the Bruins.

He stands with a 1.54 GAA and a .945 SV% through two games this season – obviously, a very small sample size, but his numbers are encouraging, especially when considering Kuemper posted a 1.83 GAA and a .943 SV% in 164 minutes of preseason action.

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta
Antti Raanta is working his way back from an injury, but expect to see him on the ice soon. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Assuming Raanta is able to stay healthy following his successful AHL conditioning stint, expect him to get some work here shortly, but also expect Kuemper to get the majority of the starts in goal going forward.

Kessel Already Paying Dividends

Although the Coyotes have scored just a single goal through their first two games this season, the big acquisition of the summer, right-winger Phil Kessel, hasn’t been part of the problem. He recorded the primary assist on Stepan’s goal on Thursday in Anaheim, and fired five shots on net on Saturday against Boston.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kessel is tied for the team lead in shots on goal with seven, and also leads the team possession-wise with a 66.13 CF% as well. The Coyotes need to find their offense here very quickly, but neither Kessel nor his line has been a problem thus far.

Pacific Division Roundup

After the season’s first week, we have a few surprising results in the Pacific Division – the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks are the division’s lone remaining unbeaten teams, while the San Jose Sharks are firmly entrenched in last place after four blowout losses to start the year.

Anaheim Ducks (3-0-0, 6 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (2-1 W vs AZ, 3-1 W vs SJ, 3-1 W at DET)
  • Analysis: The Ducks are off to a dream start in 2019-20 – they’re undefeated through three games, and goaltender John Gibson has allowed just three goals thus far. His .970 SV% and 1.00 GAA are tops in the league among goaltenders with more that one start. As was the case last season, the Ducks will go as far as Gibson takes them. He fell apart in December and didn’t return to form until March in 2018-19 – can he remain consistent (and healthy) this year?
  • Player of the week: John Gibson – 3-0-0 record, 98 saves on 101 shots (.970 SV%, 1.00 GAA)
  • This week: Thu at PIT, Fri at CBJ, Mon at BOS, Wed vs BUF
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks, NHL
John Gibson is the early favorite for the Vezina Trophy. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Calgary Flames (1-1-1, 3 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-1 (5-3 L at COL, 3-0 W vs VAN, 4-3 OTL vs LA)
  • Analysis: The Flames are .500 through three games, and, as expected, consistency at the goaltending position has been an issue once again. David Rittich has started all three games – he posted a shutout in the second game of the season against Vancouver, but he bookended his 34-save outing with four-goal games against Colorado and Los Angeles. As a result, Calgary has just one win to show for their nine goals this season.
  • Player of the week: Johnny Gaudreau – 2 goals, 4 assists, +3
  • This week: Thu at DAL, Sat at VGK, Sun at SJ, Tue vs PIT

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0, 6 points)

  • Last week: 3-0-0 (3-2 W vs VAN, 6-5 W vs LA, 5-2 W at NYI)
  • Analysis: Under new head coach Dave Tippett, it looks like The Most Inconsistent Team in the NHL™ might finally be ready to shed that label. They’re 3-0 for the first time since 2008-09. and they’ve been led offensively by new acquisition James Neal, who had six goals in the season’s opening week. Tippett, along with new general manager Ken Holland, have things moving in the right direction in Edmonton.
  • Player of the week: James Neal – 6 goals, 14 SOG
  • This week: Thu at NJ, Sat at NYR, Mon at CHI, Wed vs PHI
Edmonton Oilers James Neal
Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Los Angeles Kings (1-2-0, 2 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (6-5 L at EDM, 4-3 OTW at CGY, 8-2 L at VAN)
  • Analysis: Could we be witnessing the end of the Jonathan Quick era in Los Angeles? The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and two-time Stanley Cup champion has allowed 14 goals on 56 shots this season, giving him an ugly .750 SV% and a 7.18 GAA through two starts. This comes after his miserable 2018-19 season, where Quick posted a .888 SV% and a 3.38 GAA. Is it time to pull the plug on the veteran and turn the starting job over to Jack Campbell?
  • Player of the week: Anze Kopitar – Goal, 4 assists, 11 SOG
  • This week: Sat vs NSH, Sun vs VGK, Tue vs CAR

San Jose Sharks (0-4-0, 0 points)

  • Last week: 0-4-0 (4-1 L at VGK, 5-1 L vs VGK, 3-1 L at ANA, 5-2 L at NSH)
  • Analysis: Sharks general manager Doug Wilson didn’t do anything to address his goaltending situation over the offseason, and that decision has already come back to haunt him – San Jose is allowing 4.25 goals per game so far, and their best result of the season was a two-goal loss to the Ducks. Martin Jones, who finished last season with an .896 SV%, has been even worse this year, with a .854 SV% in his first three starts. There’s enough talent here to turn things around, but the Sharks haven’t been competitive in a game yet in 2019-20. They’ll need to show us something, quickly.
  • Player of the week: Brent Burns – Goal, 2 assists, 16 SOG
  • This week: Thu at CHI, Sun vs CGY, Wed vs CAR

Vancouver Canucks (1-2-0, 2 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0 (3-2 L at EDM, 3-0 L at CGY, 8-2 W vs LA)
  • Analysis: There wasn’t much to write home about during Vancouver’s two season-opening road losses to the Oilers and Flames, but Tuesday’s home opener was notable in the fact that rookie sensation Quinn Hughes scored the first goal of his career as part of an 8-2 demolition of the Kings. Dating back to last season, Hughes has now played eight career games, and has recorded six points in the process. If he can continue on this pace, he’ll be the runaway winner of the Calder Trophy in 2019-20.
  • Player of the week: J.T. Miller – Goal, 4 assists, +2
  • This week: Sat vs PHI, Tue vs DET
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Vegas Golden Knights (2-1-0, 4 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0 (4-1 W vs SJ, 5-1 W at SJ, 4-3 L vs BOS)
  • Analysis: The Golden Knights absolutely dismantled the Sharks during a season-opening home-and-home series, then lost a tough one-goal decision to the Boston Bruins to wrap up the week. They’re looking very much like a Stanley Cup contender once again.
  • Player of the week: Mark Stone – 2 goals, 4 assists, +2
  • This week: Thu at AZ, Sat vs CGY, Sun at LA, Tue vs NSH

With the national (and international) media already writing off the Coyotes after two games, look for them to bounce back with a couple of wins this week to get right back into the thick of things in a weak-looking Pacific Division.