Scott Wedgewood

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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.

Coyotes trade Domingue to Lightning for McGinn, Leighton

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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

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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.

Alex Goligoski’s OT goal helps Coyotes earn first win of the season (Video)

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For the first time since April 6, 2017, the Arizona Coyotes have won a regular season hockey game.

It nearly fell apart for them, but Alex Goligoski’s first goal of the season was the difference as the Coyotes prevailed in overtime 4-3 over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Amazing work at both ends of the ice by Coyotes rookie Clayton Keller, who forced a turnover in the defensive zone and then could have taken a shot but saw Goligoski for the pass.

Arizona had a nice cushion of a 3-0 lead built up through the early minutes of the third period, but the Flyers didn’t back down. With the score 3-1, Jordan Weal and Sean Couturier tallied in the final minute of regulation to force the extra period.

Scott Wedgewood, Arizona’s fourth goalie to make a start this season, stopped 28 shots. He was making his first start with the Coyotes after a Saturday trade with the New Jersey Devils.

Entering Monday’s game, the Coyotes sported an 0-10-1 record, which tied the 1927-28 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1973-74 Minnesota North Stars and 1995-96 San Jose Sharks for the second-longest winless streak to start an NHL season. The record is 15, held by the 1943-44 New York Rangers. Arizona had also dropped nine in a row in regulation, which was one loss away from tying the franchise record for longest losing streak.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

More good news for Devils: Schneider is back

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The New Jersey Devils have a long way to go before they prove that they’re as good as their 7-2-0 record indicates, but they’re getting a key piece to the puzzle back tonight.

After being sidelined since being hurt during an Oct. 19 win, starting goalie Cory Schneider has been activated from IR. It’s unclear if Schneider will play against the Arizona Coyotes or if he’ll merely back up Keith Kinkaid, but he looks to dress for the Devils after Scott Wedgewood was traded to … the Coyotes.

It might seem weird to say that the timing of Schneider’s injury was “lucky,” but relatively speaking, that may be true. The Devils have only played two games since Schneider went on IR, winning one and losing the other.

On paper, the Devils could have a good thing going, even if they’re scorching-hot offense dips to merely “above-average.” The plan so far seems to be to ape the Pittsburgh Penguins: outscoring problems and hoping that your goalie can make up for at least some of your defensive lapses.

Challenges and questions ahead

Schneider, 31, has a bit to prove in that regard.

Many believe that Schneider should bounce back to something resembling his elite earlier form (.921 career save percentage) rather than suffering like he did last season (20-27-11, .908 save percentage). Through six games, Schneider’s save percentage is at .907, but he’s also 4-1-0.

Chances are, it will take time for both the Devils and Schneider, as the next month could be rocky. After tonight’s home game, a November run includes a three-game road trip to start and seven of 10 contests away from Newark through Nov. 20.

Such stretches can often put surprise stories to the test.

On the other hand, Schneider could very well be a steadying force if the Devils struggle in various areas. It’s been a delight to behold this rare sight – a Devils team that’s an absolute blast to watch – but one way or another, their $6M goalie is likely to become a huge part of this equation (whether it’s a winning formula or not).

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.