ARIZONA COYOTES

Despite injuries, Arizona Coyotes somehow still in playoff picture

Jan 15, 2019, 6:47 PM

Arizona Coyotes' Conor Garland, left, and Alex Galchenyuk celebrate Garland's goal against the Vanc...

Arizona Coyotes' Conor Garland, left, and Alex Galchenyuk celebrate Garland's goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Looking at the Western Conference playoff picture on Tuesday morning, four teams were tied for the second wild card spot: Minnesota, Edmonton, Anaheim and Vancouver, all with 47 points.

St. Louis was behind them with 44 points, and after that is a team that has had five separate three-game losing streaks this season and has lost its starting goaltender, three centers, a top-pairing defenseman and its best penalty-killer due to injury: the Arizona Coyotes, with 43 points.

Somehow, the Coyotes were still just four points out of the playoffs on Jan. 15, which in fairness could be just as much a testament to the lack of depth in the Western Conference (particularly, the Pacific Division) as much at it is to Arizona’s resilience (in the Eastern Conference, 47 points is good for fifth in the Wild Card race, not second).

But the fact remains that the Coyotes have done just enough to hang around in the Wild Card picture, despite their rash of injuries. Most recently, the Coyotes learned that Nick Schmaltz (14 points in 17 games played for ARI) was done for the season and Brad Richardson (leading scorer, 54.7 FO%) would be out for at least a few weeks.

“Honestly, we started two weeks ago — we’re honestly a day-to-day team,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “Listen, every day you walk in, something bad is happening to the team. This guy’s out, this guy’s — so, if we talked about it and if we thought about it so much, we’d start to cry every day. We talk about it day-by-day: What do we have, what are we going to do, what’s the game plan against this team? We can’t think big picture.”

Following the loss of Schmaltz and Richardson, GM John Chayka decided to make a trade on Friday for Philadelphia forward Jordan Weal, bolstering the center position. Tocchet told ArizonaCoyotes.com during the most recent road trip that moving Alex Galchenyuk back to center wasn’t necessarily in the fold for now, citing Galchenyuk’s production on the wing (13 points in last 11 games).

The Coyotes as a whole have seven points in their last five games. They host the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.

SPEAKING OF INJURIES…

–Forward and penalty kill specialist Michael Grabner (eye) is improving and skated on Tuesday, but not with the team.

“Grabs said he felt better today, which is nice. You’re talking about a guy’s eye,” Tocchet said. “I’m not even worried about him playing, I’m worried about his daily life with him. Last week he had some blurried stuff, but now I think he feels a little bit better. So I mean honestly, I don’t know where that’s going. But for me, it’s just about his eyesight is the most important. Hockey’s second right now.”

–Defenseman Kevin Connauton had been out with a lower-body injury for a few games, but has been skating recently in full practice. Nonetheless, he didn’t see any playing time on the team’s recent road trip and hasn’t played since Jan. 2 against Edmonton. Tocchet said on Tuesday this is partly because other defensemen, like Ilya Lyubushkin and Jordan Oesterle, have played well.

“The other guys have been playing pretty well, we’re winning some games, we’ve defended well,” Tocchet said. “It’s not so much we’re upset with him, it’s just other guys have played — ‘Boosh’ has played pretty well for us, Oesterle’s scoring goals, you’ve got the veteran guys. It’s not so much that, it’s just right now, it’s tough to get in the lineup. Other guys are a little ahead of him. Unfortunately, he had that injury, and you don’t make a change just to make a change.”

When asked how he would describe Connauton’s season, Tocchet said “a little inconsistent.” Connauton was given a two-year contract extension this summer worth $2.75 million.

HOW ABOUT THAT CONOR GARLAND?

Conor Garland, who began the season in the AHL, has eight goals and two assists in 18 games played so far. Albeit some of those have been because of some gratuitous bounces and timing, but maybe in the NHL, you make your own luck.

Garland made news on Saturday, especially, when a puck hit him squarely in the side of the face and into the net for a goal, for which he received credit.

“You look at his goals, he’s six, seven feet from the net,” Tocchet said. “So the puck’s going there, right? Off whatever body part, we’re laughing about it, but he’s doing a nice job of going to those areas and he’s getting rewarded. We have some guys on our team that have to take a page out of that.”

“Conor Garland is a good story for guys to understand, ‘Hey, if I do this, maybe I can get those type of goals.’ That’s something that we’ve preached around here, now it’s just a matter of action of doing it.”

Tocchet, who scored 232 NHL goals over 621 games, was asked whether he had some of those front-of-the-net, accidental deflection goals. He replied that he had “a million,” later affirming that he even had some off the face, just maybe not to the degree that Garland did when he bloodied his face in Edmonton.

“Three feet in, I’m deadly,” Tocchet joked. “Honestly, it’s hard to do, don’t get me wrong. But you see Conor Garland, he’s smiling after the game. Yeah, he’s got 10 stitches, but he’s smiling. … He wins us the game because of that.”

WEAL OF FORTUNE

When Jordan Weal got traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Coyotes on Friday, he got a text from his former teammate, Calvin Pickard.

“Welcome to the ‘dezzy,'” it read.

Weal played on the Flyers with Pickard — who now is Arizona’s backup goaltender — earlier this season, and with Cousins two seasons ago in Philadelphia. Weal and Pickard also played in tournaments together when they were younger. The two convened for dinner on Monday night following their return from the road trip.

But Weal also gets more opportunity in Arizona, where injuries have decimated the center position and opened the door for him to play on the top line with Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer over the weekend.

“In Philly, I’d get to play some nights but then it was such a short leash that you never really got to build any momentum,” he said. “Here, first couple games I get to play with some really good players in Kells [Clayton Keller] and Fisch [Christian Fischer], and there’s a lot of things we did well and some things we can build off, too.”

Tocchet got a couple of games this weekend to see more of Weal’s game.

“He’s actually pretty conscientious in his own end,” Tocchet said. “He had a good night the other night in Edmonton on the draws, which we were really starving to have … He’s got a pretty good hockey IQ, too.”

Weal will have to learn the new system, but fortunately for him, there are some similarities with what was done in Philadelphia, he said.

“You’ve just got to go out there and play,” Weal said. “That’s what they’ve been telling me — go out there and play. We’ll figure out if we need to fix anything from there. Learn the basics of what the system is like and stuff like that — there’s a lot of similarities, especially 5-on-5.”

CALVIN PICKARD WILL PLAY

The Coyotes acquired Pickard when their goaltending situation was thin, but Darcy Kuemper has since gotten healthy and Adin Hill was on the NHL roster for a time. Because of this, Pickard hasn’t made his Coyotes debut yet, despite coming over on waivers from the Flyers all the way back on Nov. 29.

But after being healthy scratched and then going on a conditioning loan in Tucson, Pickard is back with the NHL team and is currently Kuemper’s backup, now that Adin Hill has been sent down.

“I’d like to give ‘Kuemps’ some steady games here, get him in a groove. But we’re going to need ‘Pick,’ too,” Tocchet said. “I’m not sure what games he’s going to play, but he’s definitely going to have to play some games for us. He went down there, had a really good two weeks, I heard.”

Pickard’s conditioning loan with the AHL Roadrunners ended this weekend.

“I got a lot of the rust out and worked out some of the things I need to work on and obviously still continuing to work on,” Pickard said. “So it was nice to get back in the net and work out some of the kinks.

“I feel more comfortable coming back now, knowing that I played recently.”

Tocchet said Hill needed reps, and that was why the team sent him down. It also helps, to be sure, that Hill is waivers-exempt, meaning the Coyotes can send him down to Tucson without having to place him on waivers.

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