Coyotes Playing Much Better
By Patrick Hoffman
The Arizona Coyotes may be the second worst team in the National Hockey League (March 16, 2018), but they certainly not playing like it.
Going into St. Patrick's Day weekend, the Coyotes have obviously been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Instead of giving up on the rest of the season, the team has been playing the role of playoff spoilers.
As of this writing (March 16, 2018), the Coyotes are 14-8-6 in their last 28 games. Furthermore, the team has won seven of their last 11 games.
There are several reasons why the team is playing a lot better. It starts with the play of their goaltenders.
Antti Raanta, despite playing on a very young team, has played extremely well this season. In 39 games, (As of March 16, 2018) Raanta, 28, is 15-15-6 with a 2.43 goals against average, a .924 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Raanta has proven, much like he did last season when on the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist was out with an injury, that he can be a starting goaltender in this league. When he's been healthy and between the pipes this year, he has been more than solid and has kept his team in many games this year.
The team's newest goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, also has not been too bad since being acquired from the Los Angeles. With the Kings, Kuemper, 27, weet 10-1-3 with a 2.10 goals against average, a .932 save percentage, and three shutouts, and now with the Coyotes, he is 2-3-1 with a 2.68 goals against average, a .904 save percentage and one shutout (As of March 16, 2018).
This might just be the goaltending situation that will work for the franchise moving forward. In Raanta and Kuemper, the team has two relatively young guys that have shown that they can play at a high level in this league.
The team is also playing a lot better because they have finally bought into head coach Rick Tocchet's system. The club is playing a lot faster, playing responsibly in their own zone and starting to get a bit more scoring.
In the beginning of the season, this team had trouble making the adjustment to this style of play. The players on the team did not seem to necessarily believe that they could play that way, but they certainly have been able to the last few weeks.
While this team is second to last in the league in goals scored (As of March 16, 2018), they have been getting decent production from the likes of Clayton Keller (19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points), Derek Stepan (12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points), Christian Dvorak (15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points), and Max Domi (5 goals and 27 assists for 32 points). Yes, these numbers can be and need to be better, but at least they are showing some positive signs offensively.
Defensively, this team has always been led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While he has struggled mightily this season (-34 this season), he has picked-up 36 points (11 goals and 25 assists), has 13 of them on the power play, and has taken 171 shots on goal.
When you put all of these things together, it makes the Coyotes a much tougher team to play against. This can easily be seen as they have recently beaten the likes of the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks.
The team has also played extremely competitive hockey against a few of the better teams in the league this season. They recently lost extremely close games to both the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators while also staying in many of the games they have played in the last month or so.
The Coyotes are finally taking steps in the right direction. Hopefully, they will be able to continue building this team the right way so they can get back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.