As the holiday season approaches, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for as the season heads past the one-quarter mark. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. Let’s take a look at what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Arizona Coyotes.
What are the Coyotes most thankful for?
The weak start by almost the entire Pacific Division.
Despite sitting at 9-9-2 through their first 20 games and currently holding down seventh spot in the division, the Coyotes are by no means out of the playoff race at this point. In fact, they sit only seven points behind the division-leading Calgary Flames with two fewer games played, and are one of only three teams without a negative goal differential. The Coyotes haven’t played anywhere near their best through the first two months of the season, but still sit in prime position to battle for the postseason because of the middling efforts from former playoff teams like Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles.
Anyone that did project the Coyotes to be competitive this season did it with one huge caveat: Antti Raanta must stay healthy. That hasn’t happened through the first quarter of the season, and Kuemper has been forced to start 11 of the team’s 20 games. He’s 4-5-2 in those games, but his .914 save percentage has been more than good enough to keep the Coyotes’ head above water as they await the return of their star goaltender. Raanta was activated off injured reserve today, and if he can return to form immediately the Coyotes actually may have one of the best tandems in the entire league.
While Raanta has the ability to contend for the Vezina Trophy, there’s no doubt that Kuemper will be needed again at some point this season. The 28-year old has now done nothing but provide solid backup play at three Western Conference stops, recording save percentages of .910, .932 and .907 in Minnesota, Los Angeles and Arizona respectively.
What would the Coyotes be even more thankful for?
A little bit of shot luck, and a healthy defense.
It’s a good thing the Coyotes have received solid goaltending from Raanta and Kuemper, because they aren’t scoring enough to win games 6-5. The team has just 50 goals on the season through 20 games, and is shooting a near league-worst 7.9%—only Carolina and Los Angeles are below them. Young forwards like Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer and Lawson Crouse are all shooting under 10% on the season, while the entire defense corps has only combined for five goals.
That defense is where the real issue has been lately, as for a while the team was without Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Jakob Chychrun, three of their top four options. While Demers is out for the rest of the season, the other two are back in action and should help the team moving forward. Perhaps they can even chip in a goal or two while the forward group figures out how to put the puck in the net.
What should be on the Coyotes’ Holiday Wish List?
There are lots of teams looking to balance out their forward group with an acquisition or two this season, but luckily there are plenty of options expected to be on the market come the start of 2019. Even with the New York Rangers doing better than expected there will likely be one or two veteran names on the move out of Madison Square Garden, while the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings could be in fire sale mode by February. It’s not very likely that the Coyotes go after any of the big expensive names, but adding a few wingers who can lengthen out their forward group could do them a world of good down the stretch.