The 5: Biggest Arizona Coyotes storylines through one month
The Arizona Coyotes made it through October.
The story surrounding the team a year ago at this point was a lot different than it is now, as Arizona owns a 6-5-0 record and carries a four-game winning streak into the month of November.
The last time the Coyotes were .500 or better on Nov. 1 was 2015-16, when they were 5-5-1 under then-coach Dave Tippett.
Arizona has, so far, justified some of the cautious expectations put on them at the start of the year, and generated excitement among the fanbase along the way. Here are the five biggest storylines with these Coyotes, now that October is in the record books:
Defense and goaltending
Even before the Coyotes’ offense came to life this year (more on that later), Arizona showed a promising trend of stingy defense and sharp goaltending.
Through the month of October, Arizona’s defense gave up just 21 goals, the fewest in the NHL entering Halloween. On a per-game basis, their 1.91 goals allowed per game was also the best in the league, and their average of 28.0 shots allowed per game was the fourth-best in the sport.
In net, starter Antti Raanta and backup Darcy Kuemper have proved reliable. Kuemper was called upon in two consecutive games while Raanta was sick, and the Coyotes won both of those games. Raanta’s .926 save percentage is No. 15 in the league among goalies with three or more games played, and his 1.99 goals against average is sixth. Kuemper’s numbers in those categories rank second and first in the NHL, respectively.
Arizona also begins the month of November with a 90.6 penalty kill percentage, the second-highest rate in the NHL behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Puck possession has helped, too, as the Coyotes have a 52.4 winning percentage in faceoffs, the fifth-highest number in the NHL.
The Coyotes had some tough luck when they started the year with Alex Galchenyuk, Jakob Chychrun, Josh Archibald and Christian Dvorak on IR, but Galchenyuk and Archibald have since returned while Chychrun is getting closer. Dvorak suffered another injury while recovering from the first one, but Arizona has otherwise had the lineup it intended when GM John Chayka assembled the roster this offseason.
Galchenyuk scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, but his presence also creates a domino effect that places other players at their more appropriate spots in the lineup.
“Any time a coach has their centermen set, it makes a big difference,” Tocchet said last Thursday. “It’s easy to slot guys, easier to put certain people on the ice. Him going at center, obviously just kind of slots every little bit better. Nick Cousin’s actually done a nice job at center for us. Allows us to put [Dylan Strome] on the left and those guys can switch on and off.”
Chychrun’s return will actually create somewhat of a logjam on defense, as head coach Rick Tocchet already has seven healthy bodies to work with at that position.
Goal-scoring looked like it would be real issue at the start of the season, but in the past six games has been not a problem at all.
Tocchet said after a Tuesday night win over the Senators that the team was doing a better job of getting bodies to the net, giving examples of when Coyotes have created screens in front of opposing netminders and been in position to deflect shots when necessary.
It’s also true that Arizona was putting up massive shot differentials, even when they were getting shut out. In that sense, it was only a matter of time before something clicked.
The Coyotes finished October having scored 2.73 goals per game, which is 25th (seventh-worst) in the league, but it’s a marked improvement from the 0.60 goals per game they had through five contests. Since the start of an Oct. 18 game against the Blackhawks, Arizona is averaging 4.50 goals per game.
One caveat is that in the six-game stretch where the Coyotes have been scoring like crazy, Arizona has faced the opponent’s backup goaltender four times. Still, they’ve scored nine goals in roughly eight periods of play against the starters they did face in that span.
On Dec. 23, 2017, the Coyotes scored two shorthanded goals at home against the Colorado Avalanche, both by Derek Stepan. Those were the only two shorthanded goals Arizona would get all year.
This season, the Coyotes are plus-3 on the penalty kill, having scored six shorthanded goals (most in NHL) and allowed three power play goals (tied for fewest in NHL). Arizona has actually scored more shorthanded goals (6) than power play goals (4).
Four different Coyotes have a shorthanded goal this season: Michael Grabner (2), Brad Richardson (2), Derek Stepan and Lawson Crouse.
Most importantly, regardless of how they’re getting it done, Arizona is alive and well after a month of play.
On Nov. 1, 2017, the Coyotes were 1-11-1 under a new head coach, allowing 4.66 goals per game and scoring 2.75 goals per game. On Nov. 1, 2018, the Coyotes are four points out of first place with a 6-5-0 record, a four-game win streak, the second-best PK in the league and the fewest goals allowed in the league. There has been noticeable improvement.
Arizona still has more to prove until everyone can anoint them as a finished product, having arrived at their destination. Their season is only 13.4 percent complete, and they are in fifth place. They have lost only one fewer game than they’ve won. Their power play is the second-worst in the league.
But there are encouraging signs with the group we’ve seen in 2018-19 so far, and a tough schedule ahead will be a good test for a team that seems to be making progress.