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GM Chayka sees promising signs from Coyotes in November

Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher, right, scores against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta during first-period NHL hockey game action in Montreal, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
LISTEN: John Chayka, Coyotes GM

Excuses don’t fly on the ice, but evaluating the Arizona Coyotes from afar involves putting more weight into games where they had one of their most important players available.

Goalie Antti Raanta has played in nine of the team’s 10 games in November since returning from injury, putting together a .912 save percentage over that span.

After playing just three games in October, he’s been one of the key differences during the second month of the season.

Over the last 12 games, the Coyotes are 5-5-2, and general manager John Chayka believes there are positive signs this past month that hold more value than the agonizing first stretch of the 2017-18 season in which Arizona started out 0-10-1.

“It’s one of those things where, again, you got to look at larger segments,” Chayka told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I think we’re much closer to the team that’s 5-5-2 than the one that’s 0-10-1, of course. Again, any team, you look across the league, if you don’t have your starting goalie — I don’t care if you’re built to win this year and you’ve got a bunch of veterans and you’re a capped team or whatever the case may be — you’re going to struggle.”

The Coyotes head into a Wednesday night game against the San Jose Sharks on a three-game winning streak.

Things are seemingly coming together, especially for young players who began the season in a funk.

Max Domi pulled himself out of an eight-game point drought with a goal and an assist Monday at Toronto, and Anthony Duclair scored five points over the winning streak after scoring just five points through the entire month of October.

“We’ve got a lot of young players (who) continue to play better,” Chayka said. “Max Domi has played better of late, Anthony Duclair is finding his touch, playing a better overall game, Christian Dvorak is coming on for us up front, Brendan Perlini is playing the best hockey I’ve seen him play, Derek Stepan has found his rhythm for us.”

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson’s return in the last two games and the near return of Jakob Chychrun — he was practicing on Wednesday — lend hope that a healthy roster will continue adding to the momentum.

But topping the list of promising signs, it’s Raanta acting as stabilizing force in goal that has Chayka believing his team isn’t as bad as the 0-10-1 start to the year suggested.

“Look, he’s a good goalie, he’s going to stop the goals he’s supposed to stop. He just comes in, he’s a great person, he stabilizes things for us, guys like to play in front of him,” the general manager said.

“He gives us confidence.”

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