Many teams have had bounce-back seasons this year in the NHL. One team in particular is the Arizona Coyotes. They finished last season with a 29-41-12 record and have completely turned it around this year at 36-31-6.
The acquisitions of Vinnie Hinostroza, Michael Grabner, Nick Schmaltz, Alex Galchenyuk, and Jordan Oesterle have helped turn this team around. Although they started the season getting shutout in the first three of four games and all the injuries, the Coyotes now hold the second wild card spot.
Are they the real deal?
Overcoming All the Injuries
The Coyotes came into this season with the injury of center Christian Dvorak. As the season progressed, players dropped like flies left and right.
Michael Grabner was out with an eye injury for three months. Leg surgery sidelined goalie Antti Raanta for the rest of the season. A knee injury sidelined Nick Schmaltz. Defenseman Jason Demers was out for a knee injury. At one point in the season the Coyotes had nine starters out of the lineup.
Coyotes forward Nick Cousins said, “It seems like every game somebody’s getting banged up.” Despite the injuries, the Coyotes continue to win, but how?
Look no further than the youngsters.
Young guys have stepped up with a number of vets out. Goalie Adin Hill stepped up in the absence of Raanta. Hill had an impressive call-up going 3-0-0 with a 0.43 goals against average and one shutout.
That’s just the start of it all.
Conor Garland was a part of the call-up with Hill. Garland has scored 12 goals and 16 points total. Now, these are low stats for a rookie, however, Garland’s play-making abilities are impressive. The 23-year-old has scored some big goals that have won games for the Coyotes which has kept them in the playoff race for so long.
Arizona is getting most of those injured-players back. Some of those call-ups have stayed with the team to keep the energy and chemistry flowing. It seems they have found the perfect balance of youth and experience.
Rick Tocchet has Molded this Team Together
Tocchet’s first year with the Coyotes is one to be remembered, but not in a positive light. The Coyotes started 0-9-1 in the 2017-2018 season. They were out of the playoff race by November last year and were playing just to play. Fast-forward a year later and Tocchet has turned this whole team around.
This season, Tocchet has filled his group with confidence, going at each game like it’s a playoff game. This has ensured that his group plays with heart and motivation to win games.
Once centerman Derek Stepan went down with an injury, Tocchet said that he was “a little down.” Stepan said that he still wanted to be with the team as an assistant coach. Tocchet replied with two words: “You’re hired.” This initiative by Tocchet shows the trust throughout the group. Tocchet has done an incredible job in Arizona and has been in talks to be named coach of the year.
Darcy Kuemper has Proven to be that Go-To Guy
Darcy Kuemper didn’t have a great first year with Arizona; going 2-6-2 in 10 games played. With Raanta out for the season, Kuemper was forced to be the new starting goalie. He’s played 47 games and has a 24-17-6 record this season. Kuemper won some big games for the Yotes. He currently has a career-best .920 save percentage and has made over 1,300 saves this season. Kuemper has been hot as of late, but can the 28-year-old keep the Yotes rolling?
The Coyotes have nine games left. Three are a part of an Eastern Conference road trip which will determine if the Yotes are the real deal. As of now, the Minnesota Wild are the team to beat and one of the remaining matchups is at Minnesota.
Arizona has been a big surprise this year and they can certainly be happy with the results of this season by resting on their laurels. Or, they can put the pedal to the metal and finish strong to secure a playoff bid. Time will tell what they choose.