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‘Correctable’: Ways the Arizona Coyotes could end a poor stretch

Antti Raanta #32 and Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Arizona Coyotes defend against Nick Ritchie #37 of the Anaheim Ducks during the third period of game at Honda Center on January 29, 2020 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet acknowledged that his opinion of Thursday night’s loss to the L.A. Kings was different from that of some other games they’ve lost recently, in a good way.

The Coyotes are mired in an eight-game stretch that’s included seven losses, five in regulation, and a month of January in which they’ve gone 4-5-2. But at least the 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings on Thursday was closer to what the team needs to do to win.

“I can be pretty brutally honest with our team and critical. I thought for 50 minutes, we were really good,” Tocchet said Friday before explaining the details of what went wrong. “What I’m kind of excited about is it’s correctable. If you ask me on another couple of games, I’d be worried. But this game was more concepts in the sense that we just sat back.”

Indeed, being more aggressive with a lead late in the game is fixable. Maybe on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Coyotes can get a much-needed win by preventing avoidable mistakes, sticking with their assigned player defensively and going to the spots they’re asked to. Maybe that will be enough to get out of a funk.

It’s also important to note that if you feel like the sky is falling, look at the standings: The Coyotes are still in a playoff position going into the weekend. There are also plenty of games left.

“We’re in a good spot. There’s other teams that want our spot,” Tocchet said.

But what else can be done? Here are some things the Coyotes can do to try to pull their way out of what’s been their low point of the season:

CHANGING THE LINEUP

The Coyotes rolled out some new forward lines on Wednesday that they kept on Thursday, and then on Thursday also played with some new defensive pairings.

For example, Nick Schmaltz moved to center on the third line between Lawson Crouse and Vinnie Hinostroza. Phil Kessel came up to the second line with Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was on the top pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and the pairing of Alex Goligoski and Jakob Chychrun got split up.

“Well, losing,” Tocchet said when asked what prompted the changes. “Some guys’ play hasn’t been great. You try to help guys, invigorate guys, rejuvenate some guys. I thought Nick Schmaltz, the last two games, he even had the flu … I thought he was renewed up the middle. And he produced for us.” (Schmaltz scored a goal and two assists the last two games.)

STAYING POSITIVE

Staying positive and not falling into a rut of doubt and disbelief were themes in the postgame interviews after Thursday night’s loss.

“You’ve got to be excited to play these games,” Tocchet said Friday. “We need some individuals, and they know it, they’ve got to play better. They’ve got to be able to play consistent. They’ve got to start to make plays for us, and the only way to do that is if you come to the rink every day with energy, and you come today and you work hard in practice, and you apply it in games. Nobody’s going to do it for you.”

SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY

The power play is ticking at just 12.5% during this stretch (since Jan. 9), the fifth-worst mark in the league in that span.

The power play has been hot and cold this year, clicking at 19.8% in the league on the season for 16th in the NHL. But it does have a track record this year for “turning it on,” so to speak; for example, from Nov. 18 to Dec. 19 of this season, Arizona’s power play scored 29.8% of the time, the second-best in the NHL for that time period.

GENERATE CHANCES, LIMIT THEIRS (DUH)

Arizona has owned only 45.7% of the total scoring chances generated by either team during this eight-game stretch.

But Stepan said on Thursday that the Kings loss showed improvement: “Through this stretch, I felt like that was closer to what we want.” The numbers back him up on that. Within this eight-game stretch, Thursday was the third-highest percentage the Coyotes have had of a game’s high-danger scoring chances, per NaturalStatTrick. The only two games in which they owned a higher percentage of the high-danger scoring chances were the other two games in which they earned at least a point.

In other words, there’s a correlation in this stretch between earning a point (or more) and having a large share of high-danger scoring chances. That could counter any theory that it’s simply a matter of goaltending or some other highly-specific issue.

NO. 1 GOALTENDER

That said, they’d be fortunate to get Darcy Kuemper back.

Tocchet said Friday that Kuemper got on the ice and is still working back from a lower-body injury that’s kept him out since Dec. 19.

“Light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the same thing,” Tocchet said. “Hasn’t practiced with us yet. I don’t know when that’s going to be. But he’s obviously getting better.”

The Coyotes have a 15-8-2 with Kuemper this year.


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