Niklas Hjalmarsson

Associated Press

The Arizona Coyotes’ season is only getting worse

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WINNIPEG — The Arizona Coyotes’ start to the 2017-18 season — a complete tire fire by all accounts — managed to burn a little brighter on Tuesday.

After dropping a 4-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Coyotes, now 2-15-3, became the first team in National Hockey League history to play their first 20 games and not register a regulation win.

It’s not the first time the Coyotes have flirted with the unfortunate side of the history books through the first quarter of the season.

Arizona’s first win came just in time to partially save their own blushes after ending an 11-game slide to start the year (partially, because they still tied a league record set back during the 1943-43 season for most games without a win to start a season) and prevented them from becoming the sole owners of a piece of history coveted by no one.

“I’ve been saying it all year: You can’t complain, you can’t moan,” Coyotes forward Brandon Perlini said on Tuesday after the loss. “Like, just go play, work hard. There’s no other special secret or special juice. You just have to work your way out of it everyone shift after shift … and eventually I believe it will turn.”

Perlini’s frustration, despite trying to remain positive, was evident, and while the results for the Coyotes are borderline shocking, to say the least, they might not be all that surprising.

The Coyotes have been bleeding for a while now, missing the playoffs in their past five seasons since their remarkable run to the Western Conference finals in 2012.

They lost veteran captain Shane Doan to retirement over the offseason and traded away Mike Smith, who had backstopped the ‘Yotes for six seasons as they entered full-fledged rebuild mode.

They gained Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta via trade with the New York Rangers and have watched Clayton Keller blossom into the league’s best rookie early this season, although he’s been held off the scoresheet in four straight games.

Adding three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t hurt either, but he hasn’t played since Halloween due to an upper-body injury.

Arizona is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals for but last in goals against. They’re second last in expected goals for and have the second-worst team save percentage.

None of that equates to wins and the Coyotes aren’t even getting lucky from time to time.

“It’s been a rough start,” said Raanta, who got the yank in Tuesday’s game. “When you have a young team and lots of new things going on, you need that confidence that comes from those wins. We haven’t gotten that early on in the season. But we’re still working hard. It’s the only way we can get over it.”

Raanta, who was arguably considered the best goalie without a starting role in the NHL over the past couple of seasons, said he’s had to battle his own demons this year amid all the losing.

“It’s tough when you’re a goalie and you lose a couple games in a row, you start looking at yourself and wondering what is going on,” said Raanta, who missed nine games with a lower-body ailment earlier this year. “For me, I just have to give us a chance to win. If I can look in the mirror after the game and say that I did whatever I could, of course, you can’t be satisfied, but you can find a positive.”

The land where the Coyotes are a contending team in the Western Conference seems like its far, far away at this point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

The Arizona Coyotes should not be this bad

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: The scariest goalie masks in history

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–The Pittsburgh Tribune looks at five things we’ve learned from Pittsburgh’s early struggles. The issues they have this year aren’t the same as last year’s. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–Earlier this season, Mark Streit and the Montreal Canadiens parted ways after a short time together. Now, the Swiss defenseman has announced his retirement from professional hockey. (Swisshockeynews.ch)

–ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski lists the 15 scariest goalie masks in NHL history. Gary Bromley would’ve received my vote, but he finished second on the list, while Rangers goalie Gilles Gratton was number one. (ESPN.com)

Steve Mason added some spooky details to his new goalie mask. The Jets goalie has some of his teammates as zombies pictured on his new lid. (NHL.com)

Brian Boyle is getting ready to return to the Devils lineup for the first time since being diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. How will New Jersey use him? “Eventually, with a guy like him, you’ve just got to put him in. He’s done all the rehab, all the individual skates and now he’s had some consecutive practices. As long as he reacts well, we’re going to put him in soon.” (northjersey.com)

–Predators backup goalie Juuse Saros had a good season between the NHL and AHL last season, but he’s really come out of the gate slowly this year. Keep in mind, he’s still 22 years old, so there’s no need to panic just yet. (predlines.com)

–The Sabres have a four-day break in the schedule, which should give them an opportunity to clean up parts of their game. “We’re tied with the most games played up to this point. So it’s a good time to get a break, a good time to change the mood after a disappointing loss (Saturday) and just try to reset and get fresh for the week ahead,” said head coach Phil Housley. (buffalohockeybeat.com)

Nathan Walker was one of Washington’s best players in training camp. Unfortunately for him, that hasn’t given him much of an opportunity to play this season. Barry Trotz’s explanation as to why he’s not playing Walker also doesn’t really add up. (russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

–Team USA hockey player Meghan Duggan shares her musical play list with ESPN.com. There’s some Krewella, OneRepublic and even some Rihanna on there. (ESPN.com)

–There’s plenty of moves that have yet to pan out for their respective teams. The Coyotes went out and got new players like Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers, but it hasn’t resulted in many victories. Here are some off-season moves that just haven’t worked out yet. (spectorhockey.net)

–On the flip side, The Score looks at four players that are off to great starts in their new cities. Patrick Marleau is off to a nice start with the Maple Leafs and Mike Smith has been solid between the pipes for Calgary. (The Score)

–There are so many different ways for a young player to make it to the NHL, but there isn’t just one way. Hannah Stuart looks at the different ways that hockey players can develop into regular NHLers. (fanragsports.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blackhawks scratch Connor Murphy versus Habs

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The Chicago Blackhawks play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, and they will not have Connor Murphy in the lineup.

According to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, Murphy is a healthy scratch for this game. He’s appeared in three games for the Blackhawks, his new team, this season, averaging just over 16 minutes per night, which is below his career average of 18:44.

This summer, the Blackhawks acquired the 24-year-old Murphy from the Arizona Coyotes but had to part with veteran blue liner Niklas Hjalmarsson, a key member of the organization’s three Stanley Cup wins, as part of the deal. That’s a significant move for Chicago.

Murphy, a right-shooting blue liner, is in the second year of a six-year, $23.1 million contract, which he signed with Arizona. That deal carries an annual cap hit of $3.85 million, so the organization would certainly like him to become a key member of the Blackhawks defense going forward. So far, he has zero points in three games and is sporting a Corsi For rating of 32.7 per cent, per Hockey Reference.

Chicago’s lineup versus the Habs includes Cody Franson, who initially joined the club on a PTO, and right-shooting Czech defenseman Jan Rutta. This isn’t an ideal start for Murphy as a member of the Blackhawks, though it is only the fourth game of the season, too.