Coyotes Staying Alive in Tight Western Conference Playoff Race
The last few weeks haven’t been pretty, but the Arizona Coyotes are still hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race.
At the conclusion of play on Wednesday night, the Coyotes found themselves occupying the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, with a perilous one-point lead over the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who have a game in hand on Arizona.
Being in eighth place doesn’t sound like an ideal scenario, but consider this – the Coyotes are locked in a three-way tie for third place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames. They’re also just two points behind the second-place Edmonton Oilers, and only five points back of the division-leading Vancouver Canucks.
Hypothetically, the Coyotes are one good week away from being back in first place in the Pacific, where they sat for most of this season, and one bad week away from being in 10th or 11th place in the West. The opportunity exists for a rapid ascension up the standings, but there’s also no room for error – this likely will remain the case for the remainder of the regular season, meaning that every game from here on out is “the most important game of the year.”
Coyotes Week in Review
Following a 3-0 shutout victory over the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on Feb. 4, the ‘Yotes were back in action on Thursday against the Rod Brind’Amour-led Carolina Hurricanes in the final contest of a four-game homestand.
Arizona entered the game on an eight-game home point streak (5-0-3), and they got off to a good start in this one as well, as Alex Goligoski and Christian Dvorak scored in the game’s first 24:06 to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead. However, it was all Carolina from there, as Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho both had three-point nights to lead the Hurricanes to a come-from-behind 5-3 win in Glendale.
From there, the Coyotes headed to Boston and kicked off a four-game East Coast road trip on Saturday afternoon against the Bruins. A match penalty to Jeremy Lauzon for a high hit on Derek Stepan late in the first period gave Arizona a five-minute power-play chance, and they took advantage, as Phil Kessel scored his 12th of the season to open the scoring in the game.
The Coyotes once again were unable to hold a lead, though – they allowed four of the next five goals in the contest, including two back-breaking power-play markers in a span of 2:29 in the second period, and suffered a 4-2 defeat at TD Garden. The loss dropped the Coyotes to 0-15-1 in their last 16 games against Boston dating back to Oct. 10, 2010.
A visit to Montreal’s Bell Centre then followed for the Coyotes, and things really couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start on Monday against the Canadiens. First, the team received the news that starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper experienced a setback in his recovery and wouldn’t be available to start the game, as was previously hoped. Then, Montreal scored twice in the game’s first 1:52 to open up a big early lead against an already reeling hockey team.
Things weren’t looking promising, but the Coyotes bounced back – Stepan scored at 5:08 to cut the lead in half, and Arizona survived a lengthy 5-on-3 sequence late in the first period with Stepan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the box to get to the locker room after 20 minutes with just a one-goal deficit. Taylor Hall then tied the game in the second period, and, with the Coyotes on a late third-period power play after a Joel Armia tripping penalty, Jakob Chychrun did this with exactly a minute to go in regulation:
Chychrun’s goal gave Arizona its first lead of the night, and it was one they would not relinquish, as the Coyotes survived a frenetic sequence in the dying seconds to earn an improbable, potentially season-saving 3-2 triumph at the Bell Centre.
Fresh off of the previous night’s emotional victory in Montreal, the Coyotes headed to Toronto for the second night of a back-to-back against Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs on Tuesday evening. During regulation, Toronto’s Zach Hyman matched goals by Arizona’s Christian Dvorak and Carl Soderberg, and the game headed to overtime tied at two goals apiece.
Arizona entered 3-on-3 overtime on a power play after a Hyman tripping penalty with 35 seconds remaining in the third period, and it looked as if they had scored the game-winning goal just as the penalty to Hyman was expiring. Chychrun blasted a slapshot past goaltender Jack Campbell from the ladies’ tees, but the play was immediately reviewed for goaltender interference, whereupon it was determined that Stepan had made contact with Campbell prior to the puck entering the net, and the goal was disallowed.
Given new life, the Maple Leafs wasted no time in taking advantage, as Kasperi Kapanen scored an unassisted game-winner after a Jordan Oesterle neutral-zone misplay to give Toronto a 3-2 victory.
A Look Ahead
With their disappointing overtime loss in the rearview mirror, the Coyotes will try to regroup and finish the road trip with a strong performance against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday evening at the Canadian Tire Centre.
There’s no such thing as a sure thing in professional sports, but, on paper, this is a game Arizona needs to win if they want to be looked at as serious contenders in the Western Conference – teams in tight playoff races can’t afford to lose games to teams which occupy one of the league’s bottom-three spots, and that’s exactly what the Senators are at this point in time. The ‘Yotes won the earlier matchup between the teams in Glendale by a convincing 5-2 final score back on Oct. 19, and they’ll need another win here to be able to look at this road trip a success. This one will get started at 7:30 P.M. local time in Kanata (5:30 P.M. in Arizona).
After taking care of business in Ottawa, the ‘Yotes will return to Glendale and will kick off a two-game homestand on Saturday night against the Washington Capitals. It’s been another banner year for Alex Ovechkin and company – they own the league’s third-best record entering play on Thursday, but the Coyotes won the earlier matchup between the teams back on Nov. 11 in Washington.
We could be on milestone watch in Glendale in this one – if Ovechkin scores fewer than two goals on Thursday in Colorado, he’ll enter this game with a shot at becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to reach 700 career goals. It’ll be a late start for this Kachina Saturday at Gila River Arena – puck drop is scheduled for 8:00 P.M.
The Coyotes will then play host to a rare weekday matinee affair, as the New York Islanders will come to town on Monday for a Presidents’ Day matchup in Glendale. Head coach Barry Trotz has once again done a masterful job behind the bench in New York – despite losing Masterton Trophy winner and Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner over the summer, the Islanders are allowing the sixth-fewest goals against per game in 2019-20, and enter play on Thursday with a 5-1-2 record over their past eight contests.
The Isles picked up a 4-2 win against Arizona at Nassau Coliseum back on Oct. 24, and the Coyotes will be looking to avoid the season sweep in Glendale, where they’re 5-2-1 in their last eight games against New York. Note the early start time for this one – it’ll be a 2:00 P.M. puck drop at Gila River Arena.
Arizona will then hit the road and start a tough Central Division back-to-back on Wednesday evening against the Dallas Stars. Powered by the league’s No. 3 defense in terms of goals against per game, the Stars are in contention with the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues for a Central Division title and the presumed No. 1 playoff seed that comes with it.
These two teams have met only once this season, and it was a game to forget for the Coyotes – back on Dec. 29, Dallas scored four unanswered third-period goals to erase a 2-0 deficit en route to a 4-2 victory at Gila River Arena. Arizona will be looking to return the favor in this one, but they’ve had little success in Dallas in recent years – they’re 0-9-3 in their last 12 games in North Texas, and haven’t won a road game against the Stars since Feb. 7, 2012. This one will get started at 7:30 P.M. at the American Airlines Center (6:30 P.M. in Arizona).
Pacific Division Roundup
Just over seven weeks remain in the 2019-20 NHL regular season, and little has been decided in the Pacific Division. The Canucks, at 69 points, have a three-point lead on the Oilers, who have two games in hand. Meanwhile, there’s a three-way tie for third place between the Golden Knights, Flames, and Coyotes.
Every other division in the NHL has clear frontrunners and playoff locks, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the Pacific’s five contenders either win the division or fail to qualify for the postseason outright. It should be a fascinating stretch run – here’s a look at how each of the teams in the Pacific fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (23-26-7, 53 points)
- Last week: 1-0-2 (3-2 OTL at MTL, 5-4 OTL at TOR, 3-2 W at BUF)
- Analysis: The Ducks came home from a five-game road trip on Tuesday with points in all five contests (3-0-2), but any excitement regarding the rising team’s next test against the defending champion Blues on Tuesday were quickly erased when St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester suffered a medical emergency on the bench during the first period and had to be transported to the hospital. Thankfully, he’s progressing extremely well in his recovery. All of us at THW are keeping the Bouwmeester family in our thoughts during this time.
- Player of the week: Adam Henrique – Goal, 2 assists
- This week: Thu vs CGY, Sun at VAN, Mon at CGY, Wed vs FLA
Calgary Flames (29-23-6, 64 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (3-2 L vs NSH, 6-2 W at VAN, 6-2 W at SJ, 5-3 L at LA)
- Analysis: The Flames had one of those weeks – they started it with a disappointing 3-2 home loss to the Predators, then followed that up with dominating 6-2 road wins over the Canucks and Sharks. Then, in their final game of the week, Calgary laid an egg at the Staples Center and lost 5-3 to the 30th-place Kings, who entered the game with a 1-9-1 record in their previous 11. This team has two regulation wins in the past month – can they continue to hang around, or will this be another disappointing year at the Saddledome?
- Player of the week: Mikael Backlund – 2 goals, 4 assists, +1, 17 SOG
- This week: Thu at ANA, Sat vs CHI, Mon vs ANA
Edmonton Oilers (30-20-6, 66 points)
- Last week: 2-1-0 (6-3 L vs SJ, 3-2 W vs NSH, 5-3 W vs CHI)
- Analysis: The Oilers lost Connor McDavid to a lower-body injury on Tuesday, but Leon Draisaitl stepped up in a big way in that night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks as he recorded a goal and three assists to lead Edmonton to a win in their first game without their captain. Draisaitl will need to continue playing well if the Oilers are going to survive until McDavid returns to action in a few weeks.
- Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 3 goals, 3 assists, 11 SOG
- This week: Thu at TB, Sat at FLA, Sun at CAR, Wed vs BOS
Los Angeles Kings (20-33-5, 45 points)
- Last week: 1-3-0 (5-3 L at NYI, 3-0 L at NJ, 4-1 L at NYR, 5-3 W vs CGY)
- Analysis: The Kings have a ghastly 3-12-1 record since the New Year, but they’ve picked their spots nicely – all three wins, including Wednesday’s 5-3 triumph over the Flames, have come against Western Conference playoff teams. Playing spoiler and looking ahead to the trade deadline are the only things left to look forward to this season in Los Angeles.
- Player of the week: Cal Petersen – 1-1-0 record, 66 saves on 72 shots (.917 SV%, 3.01 GAA)
- This week: Sat at COL (Stadium Series), Tue at WPG
San Jose Sharks (24-28-4, 52 points)
- Last week: 1-1-0 (6-3 W at EDM, 6-2 L vs CGY)
- Analysis: The inconsistent play of Sharks’ goaltenders continued last week – Aaron Dell allowed three goals in a win over the Oilers on Thursday, then surrendered six goals on Monday against the Flames after a three-day break from game action. General manager Doug Wilson will need to smartly navigate the trade deadline before getting this mess fixed over the summer – it’s clear at this point that neither Dell nor Martin Jones are capable of getting it done in net.
- Player of the week: Timo Meier – 2 goals, 2 assists, 10 SOG
- This week: Fri at WPG, Sat at MIN, Mon vs FLA
Vancouver Canucks (32-21-5, 69 points)
- Last week: 2-2-0 (4-2 L at MIN, 6-2 L vs CGY, 6-2 W vs NSH, 3-0 W vs CHI)
- Analysis: It was an up-and-down week in Vancouver – the Canucks suffered two bad losses to start things off, but bounced back with a blowout win over the Predators and a shutout victory over the Blackhawks on Sedin Night at Rogers Arena. Vancouver is leading the Pacific solely due to their stellar 19-6-3 home record – can they keep the good times rolling on home ice, or will they falter and drop in the standings?
- Player of the week: Quinn Hughes – 5 assists
- This week: Sun vs ANA, Wed vs MIN
Vegas Golden Knights (28-22-8, 64 points)
- Last week: 1-1-1 (7-2 W at FLA, 6-5 SOL vs CAR, 4-0 L at MIN)
- Analysis: The Golden Knights continued to struggle last week – they’re now 4-3-2 under Peter DeBoer after Gerard Gallant was fired following a 24-19-6 start. However, the schedule will work in Vegas’ favor over the next few weeks – they’ll play 9 of their next 10 on home ice, with the lone road game coming on Feb. 23 in Anaheim.
- Player of the week: Mark Stone – 2 goals, 3 assists, +4
- This week: Thu vs STL, Sat vs NY, Mon vs WSH
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