Monday Morning Howl: Coyotes Heating Up?

Are the Arizona Coyotes starting to turn things around after a dreadful start? Last week’s results seem to indicate that things are trending in the right direction.

After an impressive 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 21, the Coyotes got their week started on Monday night in Glendale as they hosted Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers. After surrendering the opening goal of the game, the Coyotes exploded for two goals in a span of 12 seconds during the second period and struck again just 48 seconds into overtime to pick up the 3-2 victory.

Following Monday’s overtime triumph, the Coyotes had a few days off before getting back to work against the Vancouver Canucks at Gila River Arena on Thursday night. Competing against a drained Canucks squad that had played in Colorado the night before, the Coyotes dominated; they held Vancouver without a shot on goal for nearly half of the game and were able to come away with a decisive 3-0 shutout victory to enter the All-Star break riding a three-game winning streak.

Back to Work

After watching their goaltender Mike Smith participate in the All-Star Game festivities over the weekend, the Coyotes will get back to work on Tuesday when they’ll host the Los Angeles Kings. As of this writing, the Kings are on the outside of the playoff picture, but things could have been much worse had journeyman goaltender Peter Budaj not elevated his game.

After starting the season with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, Budaj was called upon after both starter Jonathan Quick and his backup Jeff Zatkoff went down with injuries in the opening week of the season. In his first full-time NHL stint since the 2014-15 campaign, Budaj has posted a stellar record of 22-14-3, a goals-against average of 2.06, and a save percentage of .919 through 42 games this season. He’ll provide a tough test for the Coyotes on Tuesday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.

Things won’t get much easier on Thursday for the Coyotes, as they’ll host the Chicago Blackhawks in their only visit of the season to Glendale. The Hawks really need no introduction; although they’ve lost some talented players from their Stanley Cup championship teams over the past few years, they remain a formidable opponent with NHL Top 100 players Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith still on the roster. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. at Gila River Arena.

After wrapping up their five-game homestand against Chicago, the Coyotes will head up to San Jose to take on the Sharks in the teams’ fourth matchup of the season. The Coyotes have managed to pick up five of six possible points against the defending Western Conference champions so far in 2016-17, but they’ve allowed 40 or more shots in each of the three previous meetings. They’ll need to tighten things up defensively to have a better chance of slowing down a potent Sharks offense. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. in San Jose (8:30 P.M. in Arizona).

Rieder Heating Up

The Coyotes have won three consecutive games and production from winger Tobias Rieder has been a big reason for the team’s success; he’s recorded three goals and two assists during Arizona’s three-game winning streak and, along with linemates Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal, has been the Coyotes’ most consistent offensive performer in recent weeks.

If the Rieder-Hanzal-Vrbata line continues to produce, the Coyotes will have a good chance to continue in their winning ways.

Smith Steals the Show in LA

Mike Smith got his All-Star week started on a high note, as he stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced on Monday night in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. He then topped that with his performance in Arizona’s final game before the All-Star break on Thursday, as he stopped all 19 shots he saw against the Vancouver Canucks to earn his first shutout of the season.

Then, in Los Angeles, Smith proved he belonged in the All-Star Game by stealing the show in the NHL’s Four Line Challenge, as he buried a 20-point shot from the opposite end of the ice to give the Pacific Division the victory in the new event by a huge margin.

Smith even played well in the offense-oriented 3-on-3 All-Star Game, as he allowed just three goals on 14 shots during his 20 minutes on the ice in the tournament. Many claimed that Smith did not belong in the All-Star Game due to his poor statistics, but the veteran showed that he was worthy of being a participant in the All-Star Game by wowing the Staples Center crowd with his solid goaltending as well as his 200-foot snipe during the skills competition.

Burmistrov Making Most of 2nd Chance

We mentioned Alexander Burmistrov in last week’s edition of the Monday Morning Howl, but the former first-round pick has continued his outstanding play in the desert. He recorded a goal and two assists in two games last week and has been a point-per-game player for the Coyotes since being claimed off of waivers from the Winnipeg Jets.

While Burmistrov’s production has come over a span of just six games, and is, admittedly, a small sample size, there’s no reason to believe that his success can’t continue; the 25-year-old is playing nearly six minutes more per game in Arizona than he was in Winnipeg and has the full support of head coach Dave Tippett and the team’s management, which is something he stated he never had in Winnipeg.

Pacific Division Roundup

With the Sharks, Oilers, and Ducks all within one point of first place at the All-Star break, the Pacific Division is too close to call. Here’s how Arizona’s other division rivals fared last week:

Anaheim Ducks (27-15-9, 63 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-0
  • Analysis: Anaheim picked up a 3-2 road victory over the Jets on Monday, but entered the All-Star break with a thud after a 4-0 shutout loss to the Oilers on Wednesday.
  • Player of the week: Jonathan Bernier – 1-0-0 record, 31 saves on 33 shots (.939 SV%)
  • This week: Tue vs COL, Fri at FLA, Sat at TB

Calgary Flames (25-24-3, 53 points)

  • Last week: 1-2-0
  • Analysis: The Flames entered the All-Star break on a bit of a slide, as they’re just 2-5-1 in their last eight. They still hold the No. 8 seed in the West for the moment, but they’ll need to tighten things up in the second half to remain there.
  • Player of the week: Dougie Hamilton – 2 assists, 9 shots on goal
  • This week: Wed vs MIN, Fri at NJ, Sun at NYR

Edmonton Oilers (28-15-8, 64 points)

  • Last week: 2-0-0
  • Analysis: Don’t look now, but the Oilers are the hottest team in the Pacific; they have points in eight straight games and have scored 15 goals over their last three contests. Connor McDavid continues to lead the scoring race with 59 points in 51 games, but Sidney Crosby is closing quickly with 55 points in 42 games.
  • Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 2 goals, 2 assists, +3
  • This week: Tue vs MIN, Thu at NSH, Fri at CAR, Sun at MTL

Los Angeles Kings (24-21-4, 52 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0
  • Analysis: Peter Budaj continues to shoulder the load for the Kings; he allowed just one goal in his two starts last week and continues to fill in admirably for the injured Jonathan Quick, who won’t be back until March at the earliest.
  • Player of the week: Peter Budaj – 2-0-0 record, 46 saves on 47 shots (.979 SV%), 1 shutout
  • This week: Tue at AZ, Wed vs COL, Sat at PHI, Sun at WSH

San Jose Sharks (31-17-2, 64 points)

  • Last week: 2-1-0
  • Analysis: The Sharks had their six-game winning streak ended by the Oilers on Thursday and will undoubtedly look to start another one on Tuesday against Chicago. If Patrick Marleau continues scoring goals like he did last week, the Sharks will be in good shape; the veteran put home four goals in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and added another on Tuesday in Winnipeg.
  • Player of the week: Patrick Marleau – 5 goals, assist, +4
  • This week: Tue vs CHI, Thu at VAN, Sat vs AZ

Vancouver Canucks (23-21-6, 52 points)

  • Last week: 1-1-0
  • Analysis: The Canucks are hanging on by a thread in the Pacific; they’re just 3-3-3 in their last nine games and will need to improve on their dismal 6-15-3 road record if they wish to remain in playoff contention.
  • Players of the week: Sven Baertschi – 2 goals
  • This week: Thu vs SJ, Sat vs MIN

The Coyotes are playing solid hockey as of late, but remain a long way out of playoff contention. Earning a playoff berth this season is improbable given the team’s position in the standings, but a return to respectability during the second half could help the team gain some positive momentum heading into the 2017-18 season.