While it seems like most people in the hockey world are stuck talking about how the Carolina Hurricanes will likely make the playoffs after missing out on the post season 9 straight years, there is a team in the Western Conference that more people should be talking about.
That team is the Arizona Coyotes.
The Coyotes playoff drought isn’t quite as long as the Hurricanes, spanning only 6 seasons. However, there were signs early on in the season that indicated that the Hurricanes might be extremely underrated. Their puck possession and Corsi numbers were incredible, they just seemed like a team that didn’t have the skill to get the wins. That has clearly changed.
The Coyotes on the other hand, they really did kind of come out of nowhere.
The team didn’t have the strongest start to the season, with a record of 9-11-2. A decent start, but in an always competitive western conference they knew they needed to be better.
Than, on November 25th, they decided to move on from former 3rd overall draft pick Dylan Strome. They shipped him and forward Brendan Perlini to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Nick Schmaltz. When asked about the trade, Coyotes GM John Chayka said that there is a big difference between patience and hope, and that he shouldn’t be building his team around the latter.
Then, in classic hockey fashion, the player that got chirped on the way out started to light it up with his new team. Strome has enjoyed massive success with the Blackhawks, scoring 44 points in 48 games this season with his new team. Nick Schmaltz on the other hand, suffered a lower body injury in early January and is going to miss the rest of the season due to that injury. They also have played the majority of the season without forward Christian Dvorak.
Nothing seemed to be going right or the Coyotes, and according to “The Athletic”, the chances of the Coyotes making the playoffs on January 4th was below 5%.
Things have changed drastically since then in Arizona. Since Jan 4, the team has gone 19-10-3. They currently hold the 2nd wild card spot in the western conference, 1 point up on the wild, with only 9 games left to go in the regular season.
They aren’t the flashiest team in the NHL. They only have one player currently with more than 40 points on the season, and that is sophomore Clayton Keller with 46. What they are is a team that has boughten into the strong defensive system of 2nd year head coach Rick Tocchet, as they currently sit 9th in the league in GA (204).
Getting really solid goaltending also helps, and it’s something they coyotes are getting this year, unlike years in recent memory. Raanta was supposed to be the teams starter this season, and started off strong with a 12-5 record before getting hurt. Darcy Kuemper then became the teams starter, and has started 47 games for the Coyotes this season, posted a 24-17-6 record, while having a .920 SV%. When you combine that type of goaltending with strong team defence, it gives your team the opportunity to fight for a playoff spot while only being 27th in the league at goals scored (196).
The Coyotes now have a 54% chance of making the playoffs according to “The Athletic”. Incredible for a team that in early January lost the player they got in return for Strome and Perlini for the rest of the season, and looked completely out of the playoff race.
Addition by subtraction? Maybe. What we do know is the Coyotes have a real shot at ending a 6 year drought of missing the post-season, and they have 9 games left to prove they belong there. For a building that isn’t packed very often, having some home playoffs games would serve that franchise and their fanbase very well.
So continue to talk about the surging Hurricanes, or how the Islanders are shockingly so high in the standings after loosing John Tavares for nothing in the off-season. However, let’s give the Coyotes some more attention, because what they have done in the past couple months to turn this season around is pretty incredible in itself.