Throughout the course of the 2015-16 season, it became abundantly clear that the Arizona Coyotes were a team that struggled badly on the road, as they finished with a 13-24-4 record away from Gila River Arena. In addition, the team had major problems defensively; Arizona finished in the bottom three in the NHL in goals against while also allowing shorthanded goals on a near-regular basis.
The offseason acquisitions of Luke Schenn, Alex Goligoski, and Jamie McGinn, as well as the emergence of young players such as Dylan Strome, Jakob Chychrun, and Christian Dvorak, had many hopeful that the Desert Dogs would be able to overcome last year’s problems and become a contending team in 2016-17. Through five games, however, this hope couldn’t be further from reality.
Different Year, Same Problems
The Coyotes have lost four straight road games to start the season after opening with a home victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, and are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the league lead in shorthanded goals against. In addition, the team’s defense has been suspect, yet again; Arizona ranks 29th in the league in shots against per game at 34.4 and ranks dead last in the league in goals against per game at 4.2. These issues are concerning, but perhaps the most troublesome aspect of Arizona’s struggles is the fact that these shortcomings have been a constant for the Coyotes since the start of the 2012-13 season.
From 2009 to 2012, which were the first three years of Dave Tippett’s tenure in the desert, the Coyotes were one of the league’s best road teams; the Desert Dogs racked up a 63-42-18 record away from Gila River Arena during that span, which put them among the league’s top ten road teams. However, since the start of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Coyotes have a 48-79-24 road record, putting them squarely in the bottom three in the NHL in that category.
In addition, Tippett’s Coyotes were also one of the best defensive teams in the NHL from 2009 to 2012. With a goals-against-average of just 2.48, the Coyotes ranked sixth in the NHL in that category over the course of those three seasons. However, since the team’s magical run to the 2012 Western Conference Finals, the Coyotes have fielded one of the league’s worst defenses; they’re allowing an average of 2.95 goals per game over the last four-plus campaigns, which ranks 27th in the NHL.
“Lots of try.But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”
— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) October 24, 2016
Arizona’s penalty kill has also fallen on hard times; after killing penalties at a rate of 82.7% from 2009 to 2012, the Coyotes’ penalty kill has fallen to 78.0% since which puts them a tenth of a percentage point ahead of the last-place Florida Panthers.
Say No to Power Plays?
Perhaps the most glaring area of concern in the desert is the Coyotes’ tendency to allow vast quantities of shorthanded goals. Unlike the team’s defensive struggles, the shorthanded goals are a new problem; after allowing just 20 total shorthanded goals in 294 games from 2011-12 to 2014-15, Arizona has allowed 16 in 87 games and is tied with the Dallas Stars for the league lead in that category. Coupled with Arizona’s relative ineffectiveness on the power play lately, these shorthanded goals have been crippling for the Coyotes. In fact, the Coyote power play has contributed a net total of zero goals this season; they’ve scored two power play goals, but have effectively canceled those out by allowing two shorthanded goals.
That is the 2nd shorthanded goal the Coyotes have allowed in 4 games this season.
— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) October 22, 2016
Overall, it seems as if the reasons for Arizona’s recent struggles aren’t due to one single problem area; the Coyotes have struggled in nearly every aspect of their game over the past few seasons, and it’s going to take a team effort to turn this season around before it’s too late. They can start moving things in the right direction with a victory tonight over the New Jersey Devils.
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.