Were the playoffs simply a mirage for the Arizona Coyotes after a strong start to the season? The short answer is…possibly. The Arizona Coyotes appeared to be a team heading in the right direction after finishing the first two months of the season at 15-9-4. Finally, it seemed that General Manager John Chayka as well as head coach Rick Tocchet had the roster they envisioned. But after a lackluster December that saw the squad go 7-7-0 and a tumultuous January of 4-5-2, the Coyotes have found themselves in an absolute dogfight for the playoffs (see what I did there).
You are probably reading this at work, so I’ll keep it brief so you can get back to your job that you weren’t doing anyway, but I digress. Instead of covering every possible issue that could have caused this slide, I’ll just touch on a few key areas that surely have contributed. So let’s take a look at what has been hampering the Yotes the last couple of months.
Injuries in Net:
Sure you can point to your number #1 netminder going down for an extended absence as a reason for the struggles and that is a very fair point. But with that being said, Adin Hill was recalled from Tucson to fill in for D’arcy Kuemper and did so admirably, posting a 2.48 GAA as well as a .920 Save Percentage. Obviously, there was a drop off in netminding production for the team but not nearly as bad as expected. I’m not trying to minimize losing your top dog in the crease because it obviously hurts and demoralizes the team, but I don’t believe that is the sole reason you can point to for the teams recent demise.
No Offensive Punch
Save for Hall, this team just doesn’t have much offensive firepower, and after all these years of a rebuild, that simply shouldn’t be. The front office tried with Kessel, but I was on record as saying I didn’t like that deal from the jump. He is a 32 year old winger, who was on a team with world-class, Hall of Fame type talent in Pittsburgh, which led to his numbers being inflated. In my mind, to trade for an aging winger, who wasn’t going to have the same kind of talent around him just didn’t make much sense. Couple that with the fact that Kessel already has 2 Stanley Cup Championships under his belt, it didn’t appear at this point in his career he had alot to play for or prove.To date, Kessel has 11 goals, 20 assists in 54 games, clearly not what Chayka had envisioned. It’s not all Kessel’s fault however, Clayton Keller a promising young forward and former top pick has 12 goals in 55 games. Nick Schmaltz, a former first round pick in his own right, acquired from Chicago via trade has a lowly 8 goals in that same span. When these are 3 guys who you are relying on heavily to bring the offense night in and night out, you aren’t going to find much offensive success. That begs the question, what happened to all the promising offensive talent the team had drafted, developed and cultivated in the minors? Because it sure hasn’t shown up at the NHL level yet, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Where Has the Defense Gone:
The defense has just been out to lunch for the past couple of months. I don’t see them blocking pucks, moving their guy out of the crease to give their goalie a chance, being physical or playing within a certain defense system. No one seems to be in the right place at the right time, and they always seem to be scrambling as of late. The defense at the start of the season seemed to block everything in sight and keep everything to the outside. Now, it’s as if the opposition sets up camp in the slot and the middle of the ice in the offensive zone like it’s their job (Well, it is their job, but that’s besides the point).
Listen, the players are aware of the downward spiral they are on. They feel the pressure just like we do, they are gripping their sticks into dust and playing a little too tight instead of letting the game come to them and playing Coyote hockey. But the last few games, they needed to secure some points and and they got the job done. Does this mean everything is on the up and up now? No, but it could give the the confidence and momentum needed to find their way back to the playoffs, especially once Kuemper gets healthy.
What will it take to turn this thing around? A bone crunching hit from Lyubushkin? A fight from the Sheriff Lawson Crouse? Kuemper back in the crease? I’m not sure. But the only thing I can say for certain, time is running out for a team in danger of missing the postseason for an 8th straight season and if they don’t figure out a way to get the ship righted, the Stanley Cup playoffs would have been just a mirage in the desert.