Before we get started, we at The Hockey Writers hope you and your family are enjoying the happiest of holidays.
With that said, the NHL’s holiday break is now over, and it’s time to get back to what we do best: hockey.
The Arizona Coyotes may have saved their season last week with two huge victories on a weekend back-to-back which closed out their pre-Christmas slate of games, as they find themselves only five points out of a playoff spot, as of this writing. Let’s dive right into our look back at last week’s action:
Coyotes Week in Review
After a lackluster performance against the New York Islanders back on Dec. 18, the Coyotes got back on the ice against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. It was well-publicized that this was the first meeting between the teams since an offseason trade involving Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk, but it was long-time Canadien Carey Price who stole the show in Glendale. Starting his second game in as many nights, Price was spectacular – he made 36 saves and held Arizona off of the scoresheet at even strength, as their only goal, from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, came on the power play. Shea Weber also scored on the power play on Thursday evening, and the game-winner eventually went to Paul Byron, who picked up his eighth goal of the season just 1:16 into the third period to give Montreal a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish.
Now four games below .500, and with a back-to-back against two playoff teams on the horizon, the season arguably was on the line for the Coyotes over the weekend. The first of a pivotal pair of games took place on Saturday evening in Glendale, when the Colorado Avalanche came to town. The Coyotes jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead, but the Avalanche came back to tie the game after pulling goaltender Phillip Grubauer in favor of rookie Pavel Francouz. However, less than five minutes after Nathan MacKinnon’s game-tying goal, Brad Richardson snuck a long-range shot past Francouz, then added the empty-netter to seal a huge 6-4 Arizona victory.
With one victory in hand, the Coyotes then headed to Northern California for Sunday showdown with the San Jose Sharks. Without the services of Erik Karlsson due to a two-game suspension, the Sharks surrendered two consecutive goals to Alex Galchenyuk after Tim Heed opened the scoring in the first period with a power play goal. Down 2-1 entering the third, Tomas Hertl scored twice, while the Coyotes’ Conor Garland scored for the second consecutive night to send this one to overtime. After a scoreless 3-on-3 period, which included a successful penalty kill by the Coyotes after a too many men on the ice call, Galchenyuk scored again in the shootout to lift Arizona to a 4-3 triumph.
A Look Ahead
After enjoying the Christmas holiday, the Coyotes will head back to California to take on the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. This will be Arizona’s second visit to Downtown LA, as they picked up a 2-1 victory back on Dec. 4. Will the ‘Yotes be able to sweep both games at the Staples Center in 2018-19 against their struggling division rivals? We’ll find out at 7:30 P.M. local time in SoCal (8:30 P.M. in Arizona).
The Coyotes will remain in Southern California following their game at the Staples Center, and will travel to Orange County for a Saturday night meeting with the Anaheim Ducks. It’s been a struggle for the Ducks on the offensive end of the ice as of late, as they’ve scored just twice in their last three games. Will the Coyotes be able to take advantage of an Anaheim team that has cooled off significantly over the past few weeks? Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. local time in Anaheim (8:00 P.M. in Arizona).
Following two games in California, the Coyotes will return home to Arizona and will wrap up their week with a Sunday night matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s been tough sledding for Arizona against their new desert rivals – they’re just 1-2-3 in the six meetings between the teams, and have yet to win a game on home ice against Gerard Gallant’s squad. Will New Year’s Eve Eve be the night things turn around for the Coyotes? This one will get started at 6:00 P.M. in Glendale.
Pacific Division Roundup
After last week’s action, the Coyotes find themselves just five points out of playoff position. Let’s take a look at how Arizona’s other division rivals fared:
Anaheim Ducks (19-14-5, 43 points)
- Last week: 0-2-0 (3-1 L at BOS, 3-0 L at BUF)
- Analysis: After going on an absolute tear from mid-November to mid-December, the Ducks lost three straight to close out their pre-Christmas slate, scoring just two goals in the process. Anaheim is still struggling with possession (third-worst Corsi-For percentage in the NHL), and are relying heavily upon their league-best goaltending (a team save percentage of 92.9%) as a result. If Gibson goes down with an injury, or goes through a rough patch, the Ducks could be in trouble.
- Player of the week: John Gibson – 0-2-0 record, 58 saves on 63 shots (.921 SV%, 2.53 GAA)
- This week: Thu at SJ, Sat vs AZ, Mon vs TB
Calgary Flames (22-12-3, 47 points)
- Last week: 0-1-1 (5-4 SOL vs TB, 3-1 L vs STL)
- Analysis: Like the Ducks, the Flames will also exit the holiday break on a three-game losing streak. They’ve struggled with consistency at the offensive end of the ice as of late – they’ve been shut out twice in their last seven games, but have also scored six or more goals twice as well. They’re still in good shape but are also perilously close to wild-card position, as just four points separate first from fourth place in the Pacific.
- Player of the week: Johnny Gaudreau – Goal, 2 assists
- This week: Thu at WPG, Sat vs VAN, Mon vs SJ
Edmonton Oilers (18-15-3, 39 points)
- Last week: 0-1-0 (6-3 L vs TB)
- Analysis: The Oilers, once six games above .500, have lost three straight in regulation to allow the rest of the Western Conference to close the gap. With three teams within two points in the standings, Edmonton needs to get things straightened out in a hurry.
- Player of the week: Connor McDavid – 3 assists, 5 shots
- This week: Thu vs VAN, Sat vs SJ, Mon vs WPG
Los Angeles Kings (14-20-3, 31 points)
- Last week: 2-0-0 (3-2 OTW at SJ, 4-3 OTW at VGK)
- Analysis: Winners of three straight games, the Kings will start the second half with some momentum. Three of their next four are against division rivals – will they take advantage of this chance to gain ground in the standings?
- Player of the week: Ilya Kovalchuk – 2 goals, assist
- This week: Thu vs AZ, Sat vs VGK, Mon at COL, Tue at VGK
San Jose Sharks (19-12-7, 45 points)
- Last week: 0-1-2 (5-3 L vs WPG, 3-2 OTL vs LA, 4-3 SOL vs AZ)
- Analysis: Like the Oilers, Ducks, and Flames, the Sharks also lost three straight to close out the first half. Erik Karlsson will soon be back from suspension, but San Jose needs help at the defensive end of the ice at the moment, as they’ve allowed 12 goals in their last three games.
- Player of the week: Evander Kane – Goal, 2 assists
- This week: Thu vs ANA, Sat at EDM, Mon at CGY
Vancouver Canucks (17-18-4, 38 points)
- Last week: 1-1-0 (5-1 W vs STL, 1-0 L vs WPG)
- Analysis: After ending that 1-10-1 stretch from Nov. 10 to Dec. 4, the Canucks are playing some good hockey – they’re 6-2-1 in their last nine contests and are back within a game of the .500 mark. They’re also very much alive in the Pacific Division playoff race once again after being written off three weeks ago – quite the turnaround in British Columbia.
- Player of the week: Jacob Markstrom – 1-1-0 record, 52 saves on 54 shots (.963 SV%, 1.01 GAA)
- This week: Thu at EDM, Sat at CGY, Mon at NJ
Vegas Golden Knights (20-15-4, 44 points)
- Last week: 1-0-2 (4-2 W vs NYI, 4-3 OTL vs MTL, 4-3 OTL vs LA)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights ended their pre-Christmas slate with a three-game point streak, albeit with two overtime losses on home ice on Saturday and Sunday. They’ll look to get back on track with a visit from the high-scoring Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena before beginning a stretch of four straight against division foes.
- Player of the week: Brandon Pirri – 3 goals, assist, +2, 9 shots
- This week: Thu vs COL, Sat at LA, Sun at AZ, Tue vs LA