The Arizona Coyotes are 11-13-4 in their last 28 games, and after a promising start to the season are now sitting fifth in the Pacific Division. That stretch just so happens to coincide with the absence of starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who last played for the Coyotes on December 19th. Kuemper was 15-8-2 when he went down, and still leads the NHL with a .929 save percentage on the year (among qualified goaltenders).
If there was ever a player to turn things around for the Coyotes it might just be that goaltender then, and as luck would have it Kuemper will return for the team tonight. After nearly two months on the sideline, the 29-year old will start for Arizona against the Florida Panthers. Head coach Rick Tocchet didn’t mince words about how important Kuemper’s return will be:
It’s been a long road, he’s probably been our best player for the last year, year and-a-half, now we get our best player back and it strengthens our goaltending.
It’s not a stretch to say that Kuemper has been the team’s best player since the start of the 2018-19 season. After failing to take the starter’s net in Minnesota or Los Angeles, Kuemper was given an opportunity when Antti Raanta suffered and injury and never looked back. His .925 save percentage last season for the Coyotes earned him a fifth-place finish in Vezina Trophy voting and he was one of the favorites for the award again this year before going down to injury.
In the Pacific Division, where things are as tight as possible, his return could bring big dividends. The Coyotes are sitting two points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final divisional playoff spot, but have played four more games thus far. That means there isn’t time to waste if Arizona wants to climb back up—the wins need to start tonight.