GLENDALE, Ariz. — It might be hyperbole to call this five-game road trip a make-or-break stretch for the Coyotes’ playoff hopes. If Arizona manages six points, for example, it could still return home in striking distance of the Western Conference’s wild card spots.
The Coyotes (60 points) are six points behind wild-card leader Colorado (66 points), but own four games in hand. They are five points behind the No. 2 wild card team, Nashville (65 points), with a game in hand, and four points behind No. 9 Minnesota (64 points) as Arizona prepares for road games in Washington (Monday), Tampa (Tuesday), Florida (Thursday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Pittsburgh (Monday).
The make-or-break aspect of this trip comes from viewing the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline (1 p.m. Arizona time). General manager Don Maloney said last week that the trip would likely determine which direction the Coyotes take.
“If we can keep our head above water, we would like to support the group a little more,” Maloney said. “There’s not going to be a mass exodus like last year at all. We’re going to stay competitive all the way through but hopefully if there’s something there to help us be a little more competitive, we’ll certainly look at it. But it’s not going to be at the cost of key assets, or young players or young playing time.”
On the flip side, if the Coyotes struggle against a tough slate of opponents, Maloney could opt to move a couple pieces out with an eye toward the future.
Right wing Mikkel Boedker’s contract talks have not progressed much. The Coyotes believe they have made Boedker a fair offer with one source saying it was for an annual average value of more than $5 million with significant term. If Boedker chooses to test unrestricted free agency this offseason, the Coyotes would likely try to trade him so they don’t lose him for nothing.
Defensemen Nicklas Grossmann, Zbynek Michalek and centers Martin Hanzal and Boyd Gordon are among the other Coyotes who might generate some interest.
Maloney said he has had some discussions with other GMs on what he termed “bigger deals,” but he told them he would wait to revisit any trade talks until early this week.
“What I’ve told a lot of teams is ‘let’s talk after the Washington game,'” he said. “‘Let’s see where we are after that and we can have another conversation.'”
If the Coyotes want to keep their roster intact, they’ll have to succeed in some tough environments. Washington owns the NHL’s best record and best home record (22-4-2). Tampa Bay is the defending Eastern Conference champ. Florida owns the NHL’s fifth-best record. Pittsburgh is 6-3-1 since the All-Star break.
“Great test for us,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We’re going to have to play hard, stingy road hockey if we expect to get points. All of the factors have to be in place. You’re going to have to have good goaltending, your special teams are going to have to be strong and you’re going to have to get contributions from everybody.
“The turnovers we had (in Saturday’s 6-4 loss to St. Louis), especially with some from veteran players, you can’t win a hard road game like that. There are some issues there that we have to clean up out of our game.
“The players recognize where we are and recognize how we have to go play. Now it’s the ability to go do it.”
Coyotes at Capitals
When: Monday, 5 p.m.
Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Season series: First meeting..
Probable goalies: Capitals — Braden Holtby. Coyotes — Louis Domingue.
Injury report: Capitals — RW Jay Beagle (hand). Coyotes — D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (lower body) is day to day. G Mike Smith (abdominal surgery) is likely to return in early March. C Boyd Gordon (upper body) is week to week. G Anders Lindback (Achilles) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out for the season.
Scouting the Capitals: There is little left for Washington to achieve in the regular season. It ahs the NHL’s best record and will win the Metropolitan Division easily. It’s in the playoffs where the Caps will have to prove themselves. Washington hasn’t advanced past the second round since 1998 and is 4-10 in playoff series since then. … Holtby is having a Vezina Trophy caliber season. He is tied for eighth in save percentage, tied for sixth in goals against average (2.17) and first in wins with 37. … LW Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 38 goals while C Evgeny Kuznetsov is fifth in the NHL with 60 points.