Good timing: Coyotes getting wins, more after beating Islanders
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes fans watched in frustration as losses piled up this month, anxiously clamoring for the return of injured goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
But now, a 3-1-1 record over a five-game stretch has emerged for the Coyotes, who beat the New York Islanders on Monday afternoon by a score of 2-1. The short turnaround thus far has been aided greatly by goaltender Antti Raanta, especially the last two games, as Kuemper remains sidelined.
“Real solid, just real solid. Looks big in the net. Structurally, he looks really good,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “You could tell after the Ottawa game [on Thursday], it’s happened before with people, when you know you’ve had a bad game, you just bounce back. And it wasn’t like he had a bad game, he just wanted a couple goals back. So, yeah, he did a terrific job for us.”
From Jan. 9 to Feb. 13, the Coyotes won just three games out of the 15 they played. They’ve been hanging in a Wild Card spot despite previously being in first place in their division, but back-to-back wins this holiday weekend have given Arizona reason for optimism. Raanta played both of those games, excelling each time.
Raanta had 28 saves against New York on Monday. He outperformed the opposing Semyon Varlamov as the Coyotes out-shot the Islanders 32-29.
“I just try to battle,” Raanta said when asked about being on top of his game. “It’s not prettiest right now. Just made way too many splits and way too many sitting-downs. But I just try to battle and try to put something in front of the puck, and obviously pucks are bouncing a little bit my way also, a couple posts and like that. It’s like I’ve been saying: It hasn’t been the easiest season, so now you try to put everything on the line and try to make the save and help the team.”
Raanta’s season hasn’t been that of a storybook. He’s been injured at times, struggled at others and was often the backup to the red hot Kuemper, when previously it had been the other way around.
Struggles have hit Clayton Keller, too, particularly recently. Entering Monday, he hadn’t scored a goal for 17 consecutive games and had just four points in that span. But he scored against the Islanders, breaking that streak and putting Arizona on the board with the game’s first goal.
“Any guys that are supposed to be offensive guys, when you get a goal, it loosens you up,” Tocchet said. “I don’t care who you are. Because when you’re in slumps, it’s not like you question yourself, [but] you start to tighten up. And maybe this will loosen up Kells. I think the last few games, I think he’s been playing well. He’s there. He’s right on the doorstep of breaking out for us.”
Keller now has four points in his last six games.
“I think our line’s getting some chemistry, you know, me, [Nick Schmaltz] and Phil [Kessel],” Keller said. “We’ve been talking a lot and just figuring out ways to find offense and break other teams down. I think we’ve built off each game so far and we want to just keep it going and be contributing every single night. We want to make an impact out there every time.”
These things, if they turn into sustained trends, are all coming at a critical time: The Coyotes have 20 games left in the regular season with playoffs on the line.
THE GAME ITSELF
The Coyotes (30-24-8) have 20 games remaining in the season. The 62nd game of the year was a good template for those remaining 20.
The New York Islanders played hard and competently, and the game had intensity. Arizona managed those things just fine. The Islanders rank 7th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (the Coyotes are 4th), and the Coyotes scored the game’s first two goals.
Arizona’s penalty kill also held New York to 0-for-3 on the power play.
Keller got his 13th of the season less than five minutes into the first period when he received a pass from Phil Kessel, skated to the middle of the offensive zone and shot a puck that appeared to bounce in off of New York defenseman Nick Leddy.
No goals were scored in the second period, but Conor Garland got his 20th of the season less than four minutes into the third period. A shot from Taylor Hall rebounded to Christian Dvorak, who passed backhand to Garland for the score. That made it 2-0.
“I think it’s just another goal,” Garland said of his 20th. “You just want to play well and I thought our line did a pretty good job tonight.”
The Islanders’ Anthony Beauvillier scored a short few minutes later to make it 2-1, but the Coyotes would hold it at that. After a big 3-1 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Monday marked back-to-back wins against teams in playoff positions.
“We’ve played pretty well,” Tocchet said. “We’ve got to scrap some points. There’s a couple periods here where I know it’s sour taste … but I liked the way we didn’t break. The reason why the Islanders are successful and they’re comfortable in their own skin. I felt the last two games especially, we’re comfortable with who we are.”
The Coyotes play Wednesday at St. Louis and Thursday at Dallas. They’ll return to play three more home games, starting Saturday against Tampa Bay.
— Arizona won 62% of faceoffs.
— Center Brad Richardson played in his 800th NHL game. It was his 291st with Arizona, more than he’s played with any other team. He previously played for Vancouver (118), Los Angeles (255) and Colorado (118). He received the honorary coyote pelt after the game.