Louis Domingue

Getty

The Arizona Coyotes should not be this bad

1 Comment

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.

Louis Domingue (traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday), Adin Hill, and Scott Wedgewood are a combined 1-10-1 this season and as a trio have managed just an .876 save percentage.

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.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Coyotes trade Domingue to Lightning for McGinn, Leighton

Getty
10 Comments

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have traded goalie Louis Domingue to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Tye McGinn and goalie Michael Leighton.

The trade, announced on Tuesday, ends Domingue’s mixed tenure with the Coyotes.

Domingue played well at times as Mike Smtih’s backup last season, but struggled this season when new No. 1 goalie Antti Raanta suffered a pair of lower-body injuries. Domingue went 0-6 with a 4.33 goals-against average before Arizona acquired Scott Wedgewood in a trade with New Jersey.

McGinn has nine goals and eight assists in 89 career NHL games with three teams, including Arizona in 2014-15.

Leighton has appeared in 110 NHL games with four teams, going 37-43-14 with a 2.98 goals-against average.

Hjalmarsson off to difficult start with Coyotes — and now he’s hurt

Getty
3 Comments

The good news for the Arizona Coyotes: Clayton Keller has been named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month.

Selected seventh overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller has been the only bright spot so far on a Coyotes team that finished the month of October with a single win in 13 games. Halloween is over but the latter point is a frightening factoid for the young team, which was active during the offseason in an effort to upgrade at numerous key positions heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

The bad news is that another one of those key acquisitions, 30-year-old defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, is now dealing with an injury and there doesn’t seem to be a specific timeline for when he may return to the lineup.

“He got banged up pretty good,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told Arizona Sports yesterday. “I don’t know how long he’ll be out. It’s a big loss for us.”

The Coyotes have been without goalie Antti Raanta since his last game on Oct. 12, and he’s now listed on injured reserve, meaning Arizona is currently leaning on newly acquired Scott Wedgewood and recently recalled Hunter Miska for the goaltending responsibilities, after Louis Domingue cleared waivers.

For the Coyotes, turning around their early season struggles certainly won’t be easy, especially now that they’re dealing with injuries in net and on the back end.

The transition to Arizona hasn’t been an easy one for Hjalmarsson, who previously spent 10 seasons on the back end with the Chicago Blackhawks during their rise to prominence. Through 12 games with the Coyotes, he has three assists, although in fairness he was never an overwhelming offensive dynamo in Chicago. But prior to this latest injury, he was posting a 44 per cent Corsi For rating at even strength, according to Corsica, and the analytics don’t paint a pretty picture.

From The Athletic:

It’s safe to say Chicago misses Hjalmarsson. Funny thing about that, I’m not so sure it would be all that different with him in the fold. As nightmarish as Chicago’s defenders have started, Hjalmarsson’s early 2017-18 returns have been even worse.

Among defenders that have played seven or more games (ie. regular lineup fixtures) Hjalmarsson’s average Game Score is the fifth worst mark in the entire league at -0.07 per game. Game Score works on the same scale as points per game so to have a negative score basically implies you’re doing less than nothing.

Just more frustrating news for the Coyotes, who host the Sabres on Thursday and the Hurricanes on Saturday before a difficult five-game stretch that will include back-to-back games on the road against the Capitals and Penguins.

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Coyotes trade for goalie help with Raanta still on the shelf

Getty
7 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes at 0-9-1 two games into a five-game road trip, and if they want good news, they’ll need to wait a while.

Saturday brings a transaction that essentially serves as indirect bad news that Antti Raanta likely needs more time to get healthy. The Coyotes sent a 2018 fifth-round pick to the New Jersey Devils for depth goalie Scott Wedgewood today.

This feels like a very low-stakes version of that moment from “Moneyball” where a player ended up changing locker rooms after the Oakland A’s added him in a trade, as the Coyotes face the Devils in New Jersey tonight. Wedgewood will back up Louis Domingue while Adin Hill goes to the AHL:

Wedgewood, 25, has been solid in spotty appearances lately, most impressively managing a .933 save percentage in 22 AHL games back in 2015-16. His overall stats are rather pedestrian, making these reasonable for both sides (the Coyotes cover a base with Raanta out, the Devils get a pick for a guy who wasn’t high on the depth chart).

Via the Coyotes:

The 25-year-old Wedgewood is 1-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average (GAA) and a .973 save percentage (SV%) with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) this season. He owns a 51-36-9 record with a 2.35 GAA, a .908 SV% and eight shutouts in 110 career AHL appearances.

Ultimately, a lot still comes down to Raanta coming back. Craig Morgan broke down Arizona’s serious goalie issues for AZ Sports, with this Rick Tocchet quote standing out.

“We need some stops,” Tocchet said after the loss to the Rangers. “I hate to say it. Hilly’s a great kid. He’s a young kid, but we need stops.”

So far, the Coyotes have a team save percentage of .874; the NHL average is currently at .910, making it tough to imagine all but the most explosive offenses surviving such struggles.

Maybe a Domingue – Wedgewood can at least approach a .900 mark, which isn’t the highest bar to clear, but would be better than this current mess. Either way, the Coyotes have to be anxious to see Raanta, both to (hopefully) boost performances and also to evaluate if the long-time backup can hack it as a top goalie or platoon feature.

It’s tough to forecast sunny days anytime soon for this winless group, but perhaps they can at least get their heads back above water.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

When will Coyotes finally win a game?

Getty
12 Comments

With a pitiful 0-8-1 opening record, the Arizona Coyotes smell a bit like the NHL’s answer to the Cleveland Browns right now.

Like the Browns, there’s logic to the way they’re being constructed, to the point where they duped some dummies into getting excited about the process. Each team is plagued by years of failings and is being steered by analytics-minded executives, making each shortcoming a catalyst for annoying debates, at least when discussions aren’t muted by the irrelevance of the matter.

In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t sound like Coyotes GM John Chayka is looking to hit the “self-destruct” button just yet.

This all brings a simple-yet-difficult question to the forefront: “When, exactly, will this team carve out a win?”

First, let’s break down their start

It’s probably helpful to sort out how bad this Coyotes team really is.

Looking at the fancy stats at places like Natural Stat Trick, the Coyotes aren’t hugely offensive. They’re basically middle-of-the-pack when it comes to the percentage of high-danger chances for vs. against, and their possession stats are reasonable enough.

There are certain numbers that should almost certainly rise for the team formerly labeled Phoenix, indicating that luck hasn’t been on this team’s side.

PDO (a team’s save percentage plus shooting percentage) is one of the go-to stats when considering if a team is lucky or unlucky, and the Coyotes have had it rough with a 95.4 percent mark. The Mason-Dixon line for a normal team is 100, and every percentage point is significant.

A big part of that problem is goaltending, and that’s where Chayka’s comment about health comes in. Antti Raanta hasn’t been healthy to start his Coyotes career, so the hope is that he’ll help normalize things alongside (ideally) Louis Domingue.

It’s not just that. The Coyotes’ penalty kill is abysmal (72 percent vs. a league average of 81.3) and their power play has been similarly punchless. Some of that will normalize, but this is where you wonder about personnel.

Simply put, their offense has paralleled the Jack Eichel-dependent Buffalo Sabres’ problems in lacking balance. There’s quite a drop-off from sensational rookie Clayton Keller, new center Derek Stepan, Max Domi, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to everyone else. It all makes you wonder how troubled Dylan Strome‘s development really is … he couldn’t break into this mix?

Overall, this team should be more competent than its record indicates. They’ve already dug themselves a huge hole, though.

An unfriendly stretch

And the tough part is that their upcoming schedule does them few favors. Yesterday’s loss to John Tavares and the New York Islanders opened a five-game road trip:

Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

While the Rangers are struggling, Alain Vigneault’s seat is going from hot to nuclear, so there should be some urgency there. Perhaps you could argue that all four of those teams has something to prove, but for a young and floundering Coyotes squad, a road trip might not be ideal.

(Then again, sometimes breakthroughs happen during the toughest stretches.)

It doesn’t get much easier for the Coyotes for some time, either. From Thursday through Nov. 20, the Coyotes play 11 games on the road and only three at home. That stretch also includes some congested sequences of contests, with two back-to-back sets standing out. Not good.

Not-so-great expectations

As mentioned before, the difficulty of the Coyotes’ schedule and morbidity of their start might at least have some psychological benefits for this group.

Being counted out can provide bulletin board material. Getting dealt a tough hand with a lot of road games stacks the deck, yet it also could help teammates bond; this seems like the time of year where young players will talk about their “Mario Kart” tournaments.

On paper, this could be flat-out disastrous, and it might not get much better in the standings even if things normalize from a “puck luck” standpoint.

Still, that’s what can be fun about sports: sometimes teams surprise you. So far, those surprises have been negative for the Coyotes. We’ll see if they can flip the script in the next month.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.