The Arizona Coyotes experienced some highs last week after sweeping a two-game set against a division rival on home ice, but they also experienced the lowest lows as well after being utterly destroyed in a Wednesday night contest on the road. Here’s a look back at last week’s action:
Coyotes Erupt Late, Blow Out Sharks
Following a big shootout victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Gila River Arena on Tuesday, March 23, the ‘Yotes remained at home for a weekend back-to-back against the San Jose Sharks, starting on Friday, March 26. San Jose came in with points in three of their previous four games thanks to some outstanding goaltending from embattled starter Martin Jones, and the Sharks hung tough in this one before faltering late.
Early in the first period, the Coyotes struck first, as Christian Dvorak was the beneficiary of a tic-tac-toe passing play in the offensive zone. “Dvo” was in the midst of a 15-game goal drought, during which he recorded just two assists, but he made it a 1-0 game at the 6:20 mark on Friday, burying a one-timer to cap off a pretty passing play by Conor Garland and Christian Fischer.
Dvorak’s goal stood up as the only one of the opening period, but the Coyotes surrendered the lead on a shorthanded goal early in the second frame. Garland couldn’t handle a pass in the neutral zone, and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl beat Adin Hill on a breakaway after skating in alone from center ice. Late in the period, though, the ‘Yotes regained the lead on a goal from another struggling forward.
Nick Schmaltz hadn’t scored in 11 games, but he got off the schneid with just 1:16 remaining in the period. No. 8 made a play behind the net to get the puck to Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the blue line, then immediately went to the slot with his stick on the ice and was rewarded, as he deflected an Ilya Lyubushkin shot-pass into the net to make the score 2-1.
In Period 3, the floodgates opened for Arizona at the offensive end – the Sharks’ Brent Burns tried to pass the puck up the ice from the far boards in his own zone at the 7:40 mark, but his pass was intercepted by Dvorak, who skated in and beat Jones on a nasty backhand for his second of the night. It was another brutal play in what has been a brutal season for the 36-year-old Burns, and the goal made it a 3-1 hockey game.
A minute and 20 seconds later, the Coyotes took a three-goal lead thanks to an unexpected contributor. Dryden Hunt had just four goals in his first 71 NHL games entering play on Friday, but he got on the board in this one – Lawson Crouse was denied by Jones on a glorious chance, but the rebound came out to the left side of the net, and Hunt was able to bury it before Jones regained his position to boost Arizona’s lead to 4-1.
51 seconds after that, Phil Kessel provided extra insurance. With the Coyotes on a power play after an unsuccessful San Jose challenge for goaltender interference on the Hunt goal, Phil the Thrill, who was playing in his 1,100th NHL game on the night, found some quiet ice in the slot and made no mistake in ripping a wrister past Jones for his 11th of the season. Patrick Marleau scored late after a misplay behind the net by Hill, but the goal from “Grandpa Shark” was mostly inconsequential in this one, as the Coyotes locked down the San Jose offense the rest of the way en route to a 5-2 triumph.
Hill Shuts Down San Jose
24 hours later, the Coyotes and Sharks were back at it in Glendale, and this one was largely a continuation of the previous night’s events. Hill was back in between the pipes for Arizona, but the Sharks sent out former Coyote Devan Dubnyk this time around.
After a scoreless first period which saw the Coyotes and Hill survive a 17-shot onslaught by the Sharks, Clayton Keller got Arizona on the board with an unassisted goal 5:49 into the second period. San Jose’s Timo Meier tried to drop a pass to Dylan Gambrell, but he was unable to corral it, and the puck got past Marc-Edouard Vlasic at the blue line as well. Keller and Kessel had a 2-on-1, and Keller eventually took the shot himself and beat Dubnyk five-hole to put the Coyotes on top, 1-0.
Later in the period, Kessel got on the board with his second goal in as many nights – on the power play, No. 81 walked the puck down from the blue line and fired one on net. With Fischer providing a screen on the play, Dubnyk had no chance to see the shot, and the puck got by him to give Kessel his team-leading 12th of the year.
In the third period, the ‘Yotes spent a substantial amount of time on the power play thanks to two-minute minors from Vlasic, Rudolfs Balcers, and Radim Simek, a bench minor from an unsuccessful challenge, and a five-minute interference major to Kurtis Gabriel. In total, the home team had 12:35 of power-play time in the final 20 minutes, which prevented the Sharks from gaining any traction on a comeback bid. Arizona was unable to score on the man advantage, though, but it didn’t matter, as Kessel added an even-strength goal seconds after Simek’s penalty expired to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
The Sharks pulled Dubnyk late in an attempt to chip away at Arizona’s three-goal lead, but the puck was promptly turned over in the neutral zone, where Schmaltz and Keller both picked up assists on Kessel’s empty-netter with 2:32 remaining which sealed the deal in a 4-0 Coyotes victory. Kessel’s “natty hatty” was his first hat trick as a member of the Coyotes, and first since Oct. 11, 2018, and he earned first-star honors as a result.
Avalanche Bury Coyotes in Denver
With six of eight possible points in the bank from a four-game homestand at Gila River Arena, the ‘Yotes proceeded to head out on a season-long nine-game road trip, starting on Wednesday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.
After blowing a 4-2 third-period lead to Arizona on March 23 in Glendale, which resulted in a shootout loss, the Avalanche quickly made a statement in this one, and once again proved that they’re the vastly superior team at this point in time. In the first Avs’ home game with fans in attendance this season, Colorado put on a show from the moment the puck dropped to begin the action.
Just after the four-minute mark had passed, Tyson Jost skated the puck out from behind the net and fired it on goal. Hill made the save, but the rebound went over his shoulder and landed in the blue paint, where Joonas Donskoi tapped it home to give Colorado the 1-0 lead. On the next shift, Colorado struck again, this time on a 2-on-1 – Andre Burakovsky blasted a one-timer past Hill off of a pass from Nazem Kadri to give the Avs two goals in a 27-second span.
10 seconds after that, the Coyotes rebounded. Michael Bunting, playing in his first NHL game of the season (and sixth of his career) after posting 19 points in 16 AHL games with the Tucson Roadrunners, got behind the Colorado defense and beat Philipp Grubauer top-shelf on a breakaway for his second-career NHL goal, and the third total goal in 37 seconds of action at Ball Arena.
Seeing three goals scored in 37 seconds in an NHL game is a rarity, but the offensive outburst wasn’t done there. Not even close. 55 seconds after Bunting cut the Avs’ lead in half, Pierre Edouard Bellemare restored the two-goal lead as he beat Hill on a one-timer after a set-up from J.T. Compher to make the score 3-1. 28 seconds after that, Donskoi picked up his second of the night, taking advantage of an out-of-position hill to give Colorado the 4-1 lead. This goal chased Hill, which resulted in 22-year-old backup goaltender Ivan Prosvetov making his NHL debut in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Teams sometimes are able to rally around the backup goaltender when a change is made in net during the game, but that wasn’t the case here – 1:27 into Prosvetov’s NHL career, Donskoi welcomed him to The Show as he finished off his hat trick with a power-play goal after getting wide open in the slot.
Did you get all of that? To repeat – that’s six total goals in a span of 3:27 in the opening eight minutes of the game, which included a hat trick from Donskoi. By the way, none of the goals came from the Avs’ top trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen – the only points they recorded during this span were a pair of assists on the final Donskoi power-play tally.
If that seems hard to believe, you’re not alone, as I thought my NHL app was malfunctioning when I first checked the score while getting dressed for Wednesday night’s beer league action at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, AZ, at around 7:00 P.M. local time. I thought that there’s no way the game, which started at 6:30 in the Valley of the Sun, could be at 5-1 already, but the NHL app, unfortunately, was not mistaken.
Facing 52 minutes of garbage time, the Coyotes surprisingly were able to get the offense going to somewhat keep themselves in the game. After not recording a goal in the first 21 games of the season, Ekman-Larsson scored his second in five games on the power play with 1:03 remaining in the opening period. As was the case on Kessel’s power-play goal on Saturday, Fischer was again providing the screen on this play, and Grubauer had no chance here. Late in Period 2, Garland cut the Colorado lead to 5-3 on a quick shot following a Colorado turnover, but Landeskog pushed the lead back to 6-3 just 21 seconds later after a brutal turnover by Arizona’s Jordan Oesterle.
The rout continued in Period 3, as Rantanen picked up his 21st goal of the year on a cross-ice feed from MacKinnon on the power play at 6:05. Things continued to get worse for Arizona, as Landeskog tallied his second of the night at the 11:57 mark, and the final blow came late in the game, as Burakovsky and Donskoi finished off a 2-on-0 seconds after the expiration of a Coyotes power play.
The final score? 9-3. The Coyotes have put some bad teams on the ice in recent years, but this was their first time allowing nine goals in a game since they did so at the old Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 11, 2006, in a 9-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It was an atrocious performance, and one that the team must agree to never speak of again.
After their disaster of a one-night stay in Colorado, the Coyotes thankfully will be leaving the state to continue their road trip in Southern California this week with a pair of games against both the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.
The two games at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Friday and Sunday will be the final meetings of the season between the Ducks and Coyotes – Arizona swept the two games at Gila River Arena in February, while the clubs split a pair of contests in Glendale in January. More recently, the ‘Yotes went 1-0-1 in a two-game set in Orange County, as they picked up a point in an overtime loss on March 18, then earned a 5-1 victory thanks to a Derick Brassard hat trick on March 20.
For the season, Arizona boasts a 4-1-1 record against the Ducks, and they’ll need to continue to rack up points against the West Division’s last-place team in these two contests. With the race for the No. 4 seed in the division likely to come down to just a handful of standings points, the Coyotes need to take advantage of the teams lower than them in the West to stay alive as long as possible. Anaheim has one regulation win in their last 22 contests – the ‘Yotes need to put them away early and keep their foot on the gas if they get a lead. They already blew a point in the overtime loss on March 18, as they scored twice in the opening 7:07 but didn’t score again the rest of the night. They can’t let that happen again – they need four points here.
Once the series in Orange County is wrapped up, the Coyotes will make the 30-mile drive up the I-5 North to the Staples Center for games against the Kings on Monday and Wednesday. Arizona and LA have met just three times through the first 36 games of the 2020-21 season, with the Coyotes sitting at .500 with a 1-1-1 record. They won in Los Angeles back on March 3, but lost both games in Glendale (one in overtime) in mid-February.
As is the case with the Ducks, the Kings are a team that has struggled in recent weeks, albeit not to the extent of their SoCal rivals. LA’s two wins over Arizona this season came during a six-game winning streak from Feb. 11-24. Since then, the Kings have five wins total in 16 games, which is the third-worst mark in the league, ahead of just the Ducks and dreadful Buffalo Sabres. Additionally, Los Angeles started 3-6-3 before going on their six-game tear, meaning they’re just 8-14-6 in 2020-21 outside of the winning streak. As previously stated, the Coyotes need points to keep pace in the race for the No. 4 seed, and they’ll need to take advantage of struggling teams when the opportunity presents itself. This is one of those cases.
Anything less than six points this week will be a disappointment for Rick Tocchet’s group. Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule and start times:
- Friday, April 2 at Ducks, 7:00 PM
- Sunday, April 4 at Ducks, 6:00 P.M.
- Monday, April 5 at Kings, 7:00 P.M.
- Wednesday, April 7 at Kings, 7:00 P.M.
West Division Roundup
The St. Louis Blues have continued to fade in the West Division, which has opened the door for one of the predicted bottom-four teams to rise up and claim a playoff spot in 2020-21. Will the Coyotes be able to get it done as the games begin to take on greater significance? Let’s take a look back at last week’s action out west:
Anaheim Ducks (11-20-6, 28 pts, last place)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (4-1 W at STL, 3-2 OTW at STL, 5-2 L at COL)
- Analysis: The Ducks appear to have embraced the role of spoiler as the 2020-21 season winds down, as they swept a weekend series against the Blues before playing Colorado tough on Monday evening in Denver. Still, this is a lost season for Dallas Eakins’ group, as the pair of wins in St. Louis marked just the third time that Anaheim has won back-to-back games this year.
- Player of the week: Cam Fowler – Goal, assist, +1
- This week: Fri vs AZ, Sun vs AZ, Tue at SJ
Colorado Avalanche (23-8-4, 50 pts, 1st place)
- Last week: 2-0-1 (3-2 OTL vs VGK, 5-2 W vs ANA, 9-3 W vs AZ)
- Analysis: Colorado’s point streak is now up to 12 games after last night’s 9-3 demolition of Rick Tocchet’s Coyotes at Ball Arena on Wednesday evening. This team is consistently outshooting their opponent by double-digits and are also generating 20-plus shot periods on a regular basis – can they sustain this level of play through the playoffs? If they do, a third Stanley Cup championship is a realistic possibility for Colorado.
- Player of the week: Joonas Donskoi – 4 goals, 2 assists, +5, 13 SOG
- This week: Fri vs STL, Sat vs STL, Mon at MIN, Wed at MIN
Los Angeles Kings (14-14-6, 34 pts, 6th place)
- Last week: 1-1-0 (4-1 L at VGK, 4-2 W vs VGK)
- Analysis: Los Angeles started their four-game roadie with two losses in San Jose on March 22-24, but they rebounded last week to earn a split at T-Mobile Arena with a 4-2 win over the Golden Knights on Wednesday evening. They’re just 3-6-0 over their last nine contests, but they’re still within reach of a playoff spot in the West Division. Even if they don’t leapfrog Arizona and St. Louis to earn the No. 4 seed, a home stretch filled with meaningful hockey will be a great building block for the future of this young roster.
- Player of the week: Cal Petersen – 1-0-0 record, 40 saves on 42 shots (.952 SV%, 2.00 GAA)
- This week: Fri vs SJ, Sat vs SJ, Mon vs AZ, Wed vs AZ
Minnesota Wild (22-11-2, 46 pts, 3rd place)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (4-3 SOL at SJ, 4-2 L at SJ, 3-2 SOW at VGK)
- Analysis: The Wild are enjoying a much-publicized winning streak on home ice, but they still haven’t been able to get it done consistently on the road as of late – their back-to-back losses in San Jose were the club’s third and fourth straight defeats away from the Xcel Energy Center, but Minnesota managed to salvage the week with a shootout win in Sin City. The Wild’s 13-3-0 home record is among the best in the league, but it won’t really matter if they can’t start winning on the road – they’re in danger of becoming locked into third place in the division, with no home-ice advantage to fall back upon. By the way – Vegas and Colorado, one of which will likely be Minnesota’s playoff opponent, both have home records that rank in the top-four in the league.
- Player of the week: Cam Talbot – 1-0-1 record, 71 saves on 76 shots (.934 SV%, 2.31 GAA)
- This week: Sat at VGK, Mon vs COL, Wed vs COL
San Jose Sharks (15-16-4, 34 pts, 7th place)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (5-2 L at AZ, 4-0 L at AZ, 4-3 SOW vs MIN, 4-2 W vs MIN)
- Analysis: It’s probably too late for the Sharks to turn things around this season, but some encouraging signs for this group have appeared in recent weeks. First, Martin Jones has provided, for the most part, solid goaltending in the month of March. He’s won four of his last five starts, and the Sharks are 5-1-1 across his last seven appearances, during which the veteran has posted a .934 SV% and a 2.09 GAA. Second, Erik Karlsson has looked more like himself as of late, with four points in his last four games. The $11 million man is having a career-worst season, but he looked like the Erik Karlsson of old in last week’s action instead of the old Erik Karlsson that we’ve seen for most of his time in San Jose.
- Player of the week: Erik Karlsson – 2 goals, 2 assists, 14 SOG
- This week: Fri at LA, Sat at LA, Tue vs ANA
St. Louis Blues (16-13-6, 38 pts, 4th place)
- Last week: 0-1-1 (4-1 L vs ANA, 3-2 OTL vs ANA)
- Analysis: The Blues’ freefall continued last week, as the team managed just a single point during a two-game set against the last-place Ducks on home ice on Friday and Sunday. St. Louis has just two wins since March 5, which, if not for the lowly Buffalo Sabres, would be the worst mark in the league over that span. Their struggles have allowed Arizona and Los Angeles to remain within striking distance in the West Division – could the Blues really go from being Stanley Cup champions to finishing outside the top-four in their own division in just three seasons?
- Player of the week: Ryan O’Reilly – 2 goals, +2, 4 SOG
- This week: Fri at COL, Sat at COL, Mon vs VGK, Wed vs VGK
Vegas Golden Knights (24-9-2, 50 pts, 2nd place)
- Last week: 2-1-1 (3-2 OTW at COL, 4-1 W vs LA, 4-2 W vs LA, 3-2 SOL vs MIN)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights have fallen back to earth a bit in recent weeks, but they’re still arguably the team to beat in the West Division. They won 11 of 13 from Feb. 22 to March 19, but they’re just 3-3-1 since then. There’s no need to sound the alarm yet, but Vegas would be much better off when it comes to the playoffs if they’re able to finish atop the division, as potential second-round opponent Colorado is No. 2 in the league on home ice.
- Player of the week: Shea Theodore – Goal, 4 assists, +4, 16 SOG
- This week: Sat vs MIN, Mon at STL, Wed at STL
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.