Special Teams Remain A Key Barometer To Coyotes’ Season

There’s a theory afloat in the NHL that the better the penalty killing result, the greater the chances are of winning.

A recent study found between 1968 and 2010, 76 percent of the Stanley Cup-winning teams had their penalty killing-average within the top 10. Most pundits like to think killing penalties represents one important variable toward success.

Not really, says Arizona coach Dave Tippett.

“Defense and goal tending, those are the keys to winning,” he said. “You win with defending defensemen. You have to be a good, defending team.”

If that’s the case, the Coyotes have not defended very well.

Coming into Saturday’s home game with Ottawa, they scored 96 goals and allowed 131. Only the Edmonton Oilers at 141, have allowed more among Western Conference teams. The 131 goals allowed is also the same amount allowed by Dallas. In the Eastern Conference, only the Sabres have allowed more, 147 goals.

Through their first 41 games, the Coyotes have allowed five or more goals in a game 12 times and have been shut out in seven games.

“We’re not a very good defending team,” Tippett. “We can’t lose by four or five goals a game and expect to win.”

Perhaps a more telling number is where the Coyotes place within the NHL.

Only the Stars, Oilers and Sabres have a higher team goals-against average.

Arizona net minder Mike Smith, who started his fourth straight game against Ottawa, entered the Sens game with a 3.46 goals against and a 7-16-2 mark. Smith is the only goalie, who is considered the number one goalie on his respective team, to sport the highest goals against among NHL net minders.

by the numbers

Disparaging numbers also represent play of the special teams.

Skating with the man advantage, the Coyotes are fifth in the NHL on power play. Their power play efficiency is second in this category on the road.  At home, they are 12th in the league but their penalty-killing is not strong.

Coming into the Ottawa game, Arizona was 28th in the league with the man-disadvantage overall and last at home. Their short-handed total of two goals is good for 17th in the league and they rank 16th in penalties taken.

The challenge of killing penalties carried over to the Ottawa game.

In dropping a 5-1 decision to the Sens before a respectable crowd of 14,933 in Gila River Arena Saturday, the Coyotes surrendered two more power play goals. Ottawa finished the game by going 2-for-5 with the man advantage.

Despite the effort to play better defensively, the Coyotes do not seem to get the job finished.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

“We have to find ways to kill penalties,” said defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It’s tough killing penalties right now and it’s been a really tough year. We need to be more consistent and play harder.”

After Mikkel Boedker put Arizona in front by placing a wrist shot over Sens’ goalie Craig Anderson’s left shoulder  just 4:31 into the game, the Coyotes then fell apart. Ottawa came back with five, unanswered goals and sent the Coyotes down and frustrated again.

All of which could be used a guideline and microcosm on the season.

Entering the Ottawa game, the Coyotes’ 36 standing points in the Western Conference is 11 behind the Kings and Jets (who played each other Saturday) for the final two Western Conference playoff spot. To be in contention for post-season play, the Coyotes need to leap-frog over the Wild, the Avs, the Stars and the Flames.

“A main reason why we have played well on the power power is Keith Yandle and Oilver Ekman-Larsson,” Tippett said. “They are two of the best in the league on the PP. Conversely, they’re not the best in the PK area,”

Still, Ekman-Larsson was a selection to participate in the All-Star in two weeks in Columbus.

For his effort, Ekman-Larrson is tied for the team lead in goals with 11 but carried a minus 12 into the Ottawa game. He leads all NHL defensemen with eight power play goals and tied with Erik Johnson of Colorado and Brent Burns of San Jose with 11 goals each.

“He’s All-Star-worthy,” Tippett said. “Earlier in the season, he, like the team itself, struggled, but he’s played much better over the few weeks. He is a very skilled player and has those three, overtime goals which won games.”

While Tippett said “its easier to see offensive production,” he did stress Ekman-Larsson and his team in general have made few defensive improvements in recent games. After loss to the Senators, Arizona had won five of their last eight contests and have two games remaining on a lengthy home stand.

“It all comes down to execution,” said defenseman Brandon Gormley after the Ottawa defeat. “We need to find a way to be consistent. We have to bring the game down to simple things and then execute.”

college hockey to Gila River Arena?

Moving to Division I hockey competition for the 2016-17 season, the Arizona State Sun Devils could engage stellar competition at the Gila River Arena.

Currently the home rink of the Arizona Coyotes, the NHL team could share time with a Devils’ program commencing Division I play. While the arena is owned by the city of Glendale, IceArizona, which operates the Coyotes franchise, entered into a lease agreement with the city to attract events additional to the Coyotes’ dates.

While no agreement is in place for Arizona State to play in Gila River Arena, initial  talks between the school and the Coyotes have reportedly been positive.


Follow Mark Brown on twitter, @journalist193