With just 17 games remaining in the Arizona Coyotes schedule, the hunt for the playoffs is on. The team only has seven remaining home games left. Their schedule is much more conducive than the St. Louis Blues team whom they’re fighting with for the last playoff spot. The Blues have 20 remaining games and must face tougher opponents. They fight it out with the Minnesota Wild seven times. They go up against the Cup contending Colorado Avalanche on five occasions. And finally, they face the Vegas Golden Knights four times.
Arizona Coyotes Have a Playoff Conducive Schedule
Over half of the Desert Dogs remaining games are against weaker West Division teams. They have one remaining game on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks, who they dispatched Friday night 4-2. They have four games left against the San Jose Sharks whom they handled well by winning three of four games. Their fate may be held in how well they do against the rival Los Angeles Kings. The two will clash five more times with three taking place in the City of Angels. These will be key games that the Coyotes must win to stay relevant in the playoff picture.
When the season comes down to about 20 games remaining every NHL team knows it’s crunch time. Points are tough to accumulate and a losing or winning streak can destroy or elevate you in the standings. For the Coyotes, while they leap-frogged over the Blues into the final playoff spot, other teams are behind Arizona and they must be cognizant of them. In the tight West Division standings, the Sharks are just three points back of Arizona with one game in hand. The Kings trail by five points with two games in hand. Again, games in hand become vital.
The Fight for Fourth
Comparing the Blues and Coyotes statistics shows some intriguing insights. The Blues are terrible at home with just a 4-8-4 record. On the road, they are great going 12-6-2. The Coyotes in comparison, are 10-8-3 at home and 7-7-2 on the road. It seems during this pandemic filled season with most games going without fans in attendance, is there really any home-ice advantage? Outside of having the last change, probably not, and that bodes well for teams to prepare for the playoffs. The other stat that sticks out is that the Blues have been playing awful lately. They have lost five straight with one overtime loss. So, out of a possible 10 points, they’ve only grabbed one point. The Coyotes went toe-to with the St. Louis club going 3-3-1 this season.
While the Coyotes seem hot and cold, one thing stands out about their season thus far. They can get smoked 9-3 by the Avalanche and flush that game out of their memory and come back to win the next game as they did against the Ducks Friday night. That can be good or bad depending on how you view it. Consistency has not been a Coyotes’ trait this season. Some players who need to step up went into a slump like Christian Dvorak with no goals in 15 games or Nick Schmaltz with just four goals in his last 27 games. Both of these young forwards were signed to long-term deals and need to be go-to type players when offence is needed.
With the injuries (yes, I know it sounds like a broken record) the team has sustained being consistent is tough. Stepping in for starting goalie Darcy Kuemper was Antti Raanta until he too was injured (surprise, surprise). So, now it’s up to Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov to get the job done between the pipes. It may be a lot to expect from two young goalies, but hey this is the NHL and this is what you signed up for and dreamed to be a part of your entire playing career. Go with it, do the job and allow the team to be in games.
The Coyotes’ Play Will Decide if They Are Sellers
According to Coyotes’ general manager Bill Armstrong who stated to Coyotes insider, Craig Morgan, “We will let our team determine if we are going to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, based on their play,” Armstrong said. “We are coming down the stretch and have a big road trip ahead with nine critical games. This trip will dictate our decision-making process. Right now, I’m happy with our group and how we are playing. We are in the race and knocking on the door to be a playoff team. That is our goal. It will be a battle, but we are excited about the challenge and opportunity ahead.”
So, in reality when this current road trip is completed on April 14th, some players on the roster now may be looking for a moving company. Does it put pressure on players to perform? You bet it does… as it should. This group has potential and talent, they just need to get some guys healthy (Niklas Hjalmarsson, Kuemper, Raanta) and they may surprise themselves just how good they can be.
And, in the alternative if somehow they fail to get to the postseason, many different results are possible. They could lose their head coach, Rick Tocchet. They could lose any number of free agents or others depending on their performance.
Armstrong is calling them out to get it done or be gone. That’s what a tough competitor like Armstrong expects. We’ll see how it all rolls out.