While the recent mediocre play of the Arizona Coyotes cannot be entirely blamed on losing starting goalie Darcy Kuemper, it hasn’t exactly helped them either. Since Kuemper went down in the game against the Minnesota Wild on December 19th, the team has dropped four of five games.
Darcy Kuemper is Missed
When your starting netminder has a 15-8-2 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and an excellent .929 save percentage, it’s tough to go without him. But, injuries are part of the game and the Coyotes are definitely used to that after last season. Losing a goalie though is much different in how it affects a team’s performance.
While Kuemper had a bad game against the Wild, the injury was far worse. Not that the team was too worried when they have a reliable backup goalie like Antti Raanta. Or at least that was the plan. So far that hasn’t been true. In Kuemper’s absence, Raanta has not fared too well. He’s 1-3-0 while allowing 13 goals against. He was yanked by head coach Rick Tocchet in the Vegas Golden Knights game after allowing four goals in just 21:36 minutes of play. Backup Adin Hill came in and shut the door on the Knights for the last 38:06 of play.
In Raanta’s defence, his defence was out to lunch on some of the scoring plays. Giving up four consecutive goals against Dallas while having a two-goal lead can’t be the goalie’s fault completely. Then, there’s the ‘sitting on the lead’ point that the Coyotes have been guilty of in the past. If you have a team down by two goals, you need to finish them off. The most unsafe lead in hockey is a two-goal margin. The third goal scored is very pivotal as to which team has the momentum.
With Raanta’s unsteady play does Tocchet go with Hill to face the Stanley Cup-winning St. Louis Blues on New Year’s eve? It may not be a bad idea considering the circumstances. It was considered that the least of the Coyotes worries this season would be in net. However, when push comes to shove, your goalie has to be there for you.
Considering the last two games where the Golden Knights seemed to score at will and the Dallas Stars made it look too easy by scoring four unanswered goals, something needs to change. Starting Hill, who had to fill in last season due to injuries may be the solution. That’s putting a lot of pressure on the youngster, but hey this is the NHL and you come to play or get sent down.
Hill’s statistics this season with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners haven’t been spectacular with a 9-3 record and a .907 save percentage. He has maintained a 2.77 goals-against average with one shutout. This could be a chance for him to show what he’s got at the NHL level. Tocchet has shown that he’s not afraid to sit players who don’t perform.
Standings Race is Brutal
With the Coyotes in a tough battle in the Pacific Division, they need to snap out of it if they intend to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They were in first place before this recent downfall. To demonstrate just how tight things are getting in the Western Conference, there are six teams within six points or less of them. They have fallen to third place in their division with the Calgary Flames just one point behind them. Both teams have played 41 games, marking the halfway point of the season.
A key factor may be their absolutely abysmal play at home where they own an 8-10-1 record. They hold the unpleasant distinction of the worst home record of any team in the conference. If it weren’t for their stellar road record of 13-6-3, they’d be further down in the standings. If there was one lesson the Desert Dogs should have learned from last season it’s that when key players go down with injuries, others need to step up.
For the Coyotes that means that either Raanta or Hill need to fill the void. Darcy Kuemper can’t help out until he is healthy again and that may not be for another month when he gets off of injured reserve.