On Tuesday night the Arizona Coyotes will play their 20th game of the season when they take on the Winnipeg Jets, winners of five of their past seven games.
The Coyotes will enter the game with just two wins on the season.
None of those wins have come in regulation, only defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime back on October 30 and the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout on November 4.
In total, they have collected just seven out of a possible 38 points.
This is not only the worst start in the NHL this season (they are five points behind the second worst team at the moment, a Florida Panthers team that has played in three fewer games than the Coyotes) it is the worst start any team has had in the NHL over the past 10 years.
Only one other team during that stretch has failed to reach at least the 10-point mark through its first 19 games, the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres, also with seven. That was one of the Sabres teams that was going through the scorched earth rebuild that saw the team get torn down to its most basic foundation in the front office’s efforts to tank for draft position.
Even that Sabres team won three of its first 19 games and one in regulation.
The Coyotes are still a team going through a rebuild and with an extremely young roster. They have seven players that have appeared in at least seven games (including six that have appeared in at least 14 games) that are age 22 or younger. A roster that young is almost certain to experience a lot of growing pains and the playoffs were probably not a realistic goal at the start of this season anyway.
It still should not be this bad because there is some real talent on this roster.
Right now they have the leading front-runner for the NHL’s rookie of the year in Clayton Keller, currently one of the top-five goal-scorers in the NHL. They added a number of established veterans (good ones!) this summer including Derek Stepan (a true top-six center), Niklas Hjalmarsson (a strong defensive defenseman), Antti Raanta and Jason Demers. They have a top-tier defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. There was already a respectable core of young players in Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Tobias Rieder in place.
It is not a totally hopeless situation on paper.
So what is happening here, and why are they off to such a terrible start?
For one, goaltending has been a pretty significant issue due to an injury to Raanta and a revolving door of backups behind him.
No team has a chance to win with that level of goaltending.
The Coyotes scored at least three goals (including two games with four goals) in five of those 10 regulation losses that the Domingue, Hill, Wedgewood trio has started.
Three or four goals in regulation is usually enough a hockey game, or at least get a point. Teams that score either three or four goals in a game this season have a points percentage of .646. A team with a .646 points percentage over an 82-game season would be a 106 point team in the standings.
When the Coyotes score three or four goals in a game this season (including the eight games started by Raanta)?
They are only at .142 in those games.
With even slightly better goaltending in those games there might have been a couple of extra wins right there. Even just plain bad goaltending would have probably made a difference as a .900 save percentage from those goalies would have sliced nine to 10 goals off of their goals against total for the season.
There is also an element of some bad shooting luck from some of their top forwards, including Stepan.
Prior to this season Stepan has been a remarkably consistent point producer that has always been a lock for at least 55 points and around 20 goals.
Four of the Coyotes’ top-six forwards in terms of shots on goal (Stepan, Domi, Dvorak, Brad Richardson, and Jordan Martinook) currently own a shooting percentage under 5 percent. As a group that quintet has scored on just six of their 187 shots on goal.
That is a shooting percentage of just 3.2 percent from a group of, mostly, their top forwards.
Prior to this season that group had a career shooting percentage of 9.9 percent.
If they were shooting at their normal career averages on the same number of shots that would be an additional 12 goals from that group alone.
Put all of that together with a young, inexperienced team that still has some holes to fill and you have the worst start in the NHL in more than a decade.
So what are the Coyotes at this point?
They are a rebuilding team that has been hurt by two big injuries to key veterans (Raanta, Hjalmarsson), crushed by bad goaltending, and has had a few of itstop players start the year on a cold streak shooting.
They should not be an historically bad team like their early season record would seem to indicate. They also are not because there is a chance a lot of these early trends from a percentage perspective reverse.
When that happens the results should start to improve too.