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Injuries killing Coyotes’ continuity at season’s halfway point

New Jersey Devils center Blake Coleman (20) celebrates his goal with Devils center Travis Zajac, right, as Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) look for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Every team in the NHL deals with injuries. It’s a fact of hockey, a reality of sports.

But it’s also true that the Coyotes’ season has been disrupted by injuries — not exclusively, but in part — creating a challenge for the players and coaches to find continuity and consistency when there isn’t much of either to be had with their personnel.

Without forwards Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz and Michael Grabner, defenseman Jason Demers and goaltender Antti Raanta, the Coyotes lost their third game in a row on Friday to the New Jersey Devils. It was in a shootout, so Arizona still earned a point and is in 12th place in the Western Conference, seven points back of a wild card spot.

“Listen, and I can say ‘What ifs,’ and all that stuff, but when we were healthy, we were playing well,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “And then obviously this rash of injuries and then all of a sudden, people get played in different positions and stuff like that.”

Friday was their 41st game of the season, exactly half of their 2018-19 schedule. At this point last year, the Coyotes’ record was 9-27-5. Currently, it’s 17-21-3. Tocchet mentioned after Wednesday’s loss to Edmonton that the team would half to repeat its miraculous second-half turnaround that it had in 2017-18 when it went 20-14-7 after Jan. 1.

When asked if he sees reason to believe the Coyotes can do that again: “Yeah, for sure,” Tocchet said. “But like I said, you need continuity, too. The stuff we were doing last year — in the beginning, when we got out of that hole after the first couple weeks, I think we were two or three games over .500 — we had continuity, we had people in the right places.

“Now, we got — we’re overplaying some people. It is what it is. You’ve got to take your lumps and you’ve got to be battle-tested. It is what it is. You’ve got to come with energy.”

Aside from the aforementioned injuries, other players who are now healthy have previously spent time sidelined, like Brad Richardson, Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex Galchenyuk, among others.

It was made known Thursday that Schmaltz (lower-body) would be week-to-week and head to IR, forcing the Coyotes to call up Laurent Dauphin. It’s a big hit for Arizona, as Schmaltz had registered 5-9-14 in 17 games since coming over in a trade from Chicago for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. In addition to scoring, it also affects the team’s depth at center.

As assistant coach John MacLean told ArizonaSports.com in December, players playing “higher” in the lineup can create a problem with ice time, among other side effects.

“I’m a big believer some guys are really good playing 14 minutes a night, but 16 minutes is a big difference,” MacLean said. “And although you say, ‘Oh, it’s only two minutes,’ it’s a different animal and that’s something that you have to do. You have to balance out those minutes a little bit better with the injuries. … A certain night, they may be OK, but over a stretch you can see it come into play.”

COYOTES 2, DEVILS 3 (shootout)

The Arizona Coyotes fell in the shootout on Friday, their first loss in three tries in the shootout this season. They did not score in the shootout as Alex Galchenyuk and Nick Cousins both were denied on their attempts.

But the takeaway could just be that once again, three goals would’ve been enough to down their opponent, as seemingly every other facet of the Coyotes’ game is going well apart from goal-scoring. Arizona is 15-3-1 when scoring at least three goals, has the league’s best penalty kill and is among the better teams in save percentage and goals allowed.

“I thought we were around the game, but I still think that we don’t do enough good things to win that game, and that’s why we didn’t win,” captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “But we’ll take the point and keep working.”

Christian Fischer and Conor Garland got the goals for Arizona on Friday as Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman scored goals for New Jersey, and Arizona was outshot 35-25. The Coyotes went 0-for-5 on their power play, which included a 5-on-3 chance and a four-minute double minor.

“I think the players that we have on the ice, we’re out there for a reason, to make good plays out there, and we kind of fumbled the puck around a little bit,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s frustrating. We had a chance to close it out on the power play, but we couldn’t really get anything out of that.”

Darcy Kuemper made 33 saves, while New Jersey’s McKenzie Blackwood was pulled after 15:59 and replaced by Keith Kinkaid, who made 15 saves.

The loss was Arizona’s third in a row and seventh in their last 10 games.

ABOUT THAT GOAL…

The Devils’ first goal was a controversial one, as it was originally not called a goal at all. After New Jersey took the puck away in the neutral zone and skated it back on a 2-on-1 rush, Clayton Keller went back to defend and dove on the ice to try to stop a pass. In doing so, he slid into the goal and knocked it off its moorings as the puck skipped into the air.

After the officials conferred and the play was reviewed, it was determined that the puck would have been a goal had the net not been dislodged. Here is what the NHL rulebook says about such incidents:

NHL Rule 63.6 — Awarded Goal
In the event that the goal post is displaced, either deliberately or accidentally, by a defending player, prior to the puck crossing the goal line between the normal position of the goalposts, the Referee may award a goal. In order to award a goal in this situation, the goal post must have been displaced by the actions of a defending player, the puck must have been shot (or the player must be in the act of shooting) at the goal prior to the goal post being displaced, and it must be determined that the puck would have entered the net between the normal position of the goal posts.

“I wasn’t aware of that rule, really,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It wasn’t a goal, but that’s the rulebook and we can’t really do anything about that. And we came back and tied the game, and had a lead there, too. We should be able to close it out, especially with four minutes on the power play and we got another chance with a couple minutes left in the game. So, it’s not good enough.”

“Whatever the rule was, the puck was in the air,” Tocchet said. “So I don’t know if you can assume that it was going to go in. It could have hit the top of the net. I don’t know. But it went to Toronto.”

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