Coyotes lose all five games of ’embarrassing’ homestand

The Arizona Coyotes lost all five games of their homestand, and boy did they beat themselves up about it.

“Having a five-game homestand and not even getting a point is just embarrassing and not acceptable,” winger Anthony Duclair told reporters after last night’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers. “It’s got to stop.”

It was actually the Coyotes sixth straight loss overall. They’re now 11-20-5 on the season, with any hope of making the playoffs all but officially gone.

It has not helped that one of Arizona’s most dangerous players, Max Domi (hand), has not played since Dec. 8. And the loss of veteran forward Brad Richardson (broken leg) in mid-November also hurt.

But discipline is one thing that can be controlled, and the Coyotes put themselves shorthanded seven times against the Rangers, who scored four times on the power play.

“The leadership’s gotta be better,” veteran center Martin Hanzal said, per The Arizona Republic. “It starts with myself. For example, tonight I took two stupid penalties and it cost us the game. So the leadership’s gotta be better.”

Only the Winnipeg Jets (32) have surrendered more power-play goals than the Coyotes (31) have this season.

Granted, when a team has possession of the puck as little as the Coyotes do, it’s bound to run into penalty trouble. Arizona is dead last in score-adjusted Corsi. They managed just 21 shots last night, compared to the Rangers’ 32.

Now twelve points back of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Coyotes would need to go in the neighborhood of 28-12-6 to give themselves a shot at making the playoffs.

Given that’s extremely unlikely to happen, their last 46 games could be a serious slog.

Perhaps getting on the road will help. They open a three-game trip Saturday in Calgary, followed by visits to Vancouver and Anaheim.

Related: The Coyotes are worth watching… for potential trades

Pre-game reading: On Daniel Alfredsson, who used to love him some Pop-Tarts

— Up top, rumor has it that Bruins head coach Claude Julien is on the hot seat, but Darren Dreger is hearing otherwise. Boston, to be sure, is enduring a frustrating season, but the team’s underlying stats are actually quite encouraging. That being said, if the B’s miss the playoffs again, Julien could be out.

— The Ottawa Senators will raise Daniel Alfredsson’s No. 11 to the rafters tonight at Canadian Tire Centre. TSN’s James Duthie remembers the first time he met Alfredsson, all the way back in 1995, when the guy they call “Alfie” was an NHL rookie. “Television being television, we needed to get video of the kid doing something — anything — a rookie on his own in a new country would have to do. So we went to the grocery store in the adjacent building to shoot Alfredsson loading his cart with the nutritional necessities of a young hockey player. Those included: Pop-Tarts and, err, well that was actually it. Just a lot of Pop-Tarts.” (TSN)

Artemi Panarin on his two-year extension with the Chicago Blackhawks: “Chicago gave me a chance to play at the very high level. I like everything about the team and the environment here. You can’t earn all the money in the world.” Granted, the ‘Hawks are still in a cap crunch, but Panarin’s extension at least buys them some time to shed salary. Maybe they can unload Marcus Kruger on Vegas, which will need to get to the cap floor somehow. The real key for the ‘Hawks will be for their rookies to keep improving. So far this season, they’ve been too reliant on their stars for scoring. And when its comes to the playoffs, it’s a lot easier to stop a two-line team than a three- or four-line team. (Chicago Tribune)

— Speaking of four-line teams, here’s a good, analytical piece on the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a guy with 14 goals, Sam Gagner, on their fourth line. “Columbus has kept Gagner down as the 11th-most used forward on the team at even strength, limiting his defensive exposure by having him play against weaker competition for shorter stretches of time. However, when the team goes on the power play, he’s been called upon far more frequently, seeing his usage spike all of the way up to third.” (Sportsnet)

— A story about a memorabilia collector in Toronto whose “1,000-square-foot basement, in a stately three-story home in the Forest Hill neighborhood, houses what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of Toronto Maple Leafs artifacts.” In said basement, “one will find more than 2,000 pieces, including game-worn sweaters from as far back as the 1930s, but also photographs, pucks, sticks, contracts, documents and the original door to the dressing room at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, signed in blue ink by about 60 former Leafs.” (New York Times)

— For the first time in a long time, there are no Newfoundlanders playing regularly in the NHL. And you know what? That’s really too bad. “Look, if you make the NHL from Ontario or Quebec or B.C., it is just not the same impact as a kid from Newfoundland and Labrador making it, because everybody from Newfoundland and Labrador, no matter if they like hockey or not, will follow that kid.” The good news? A couple of kids from St. John’s were drafted in June, one by the Blackhawks, another by the Blues. (National Post)

Enjoy the games!

Returns of Hansen, Tanev have been key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks right wing Jannik Hansen (36) celebrates his goal past Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) with teammate Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat (53) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP

The Vancouver Canucks could not afford to have another injury-filled season. They just aren’t deep enough to lose key players for extended periods.

And yet, another injury-filled season is exactly what they’ve had. According to the website Man-Games Lost, Vancouver’s been the NHL’s fifth-most impacted team by injuries to their skaters, after Winnipeg, Detroit, Buffalo, and Boston.

The Canucks have only just started to get healthy again. First-line winger Jannik Hansen returned Dec. 11 after missing 16 games with a fractured rib. Top-pairing defenseman Chris Tanev returned Dec. 16; he’s missed 23 games in all with an ankle injury.

In a related story, with last night’s 4-1 win over Winnipeg, the Canucks improved to 2-0-1 in the three games that both Hansen and Tanev have been back. The former has three goals in those three games; the latter is plus-3 with two assists.

“Jannik brings a lot of speed to our line and gives us a lot more room to work down low and off the rush,” said Henrik Sedin, per the Canadian Press. “He’s done a great job since he’s been back.”

The Canucks still have injuries. Defensemen Alex Edler, Erik Gudbranson and Philip Larsen are all out with various ailments. Up front, winger Derek Dorsett is done for the season after undergoing neck surgery.

But Edler (broken finger) should be back shortly after the Christmas break, and that should provide a boost similar in strength to the returns of Hansen and Tanev. They may also, finally, get forward Anton Rodin into the lineup. He’s yet to play for them due to a lingering knee injury, but he’s been down in the AHL on a conditioning stint, and the reviews have been good.

The Canucks (14-16-3) could use all the boosts they can get. They’re currently four points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. While that doesn’t sound like much of a deficit, with all the three-point games in the NHL, it’s a considerable amount of ground to make up.

In fact, according to the website Sports Club Stats, the Canucks will need to go in the neighborhood of 26-17-6 in their remaining games to get into the playoffs.

Is that likely to happen? No, probably not.

But if they can avoid further injuries, it’s at least in the realm of possible.

Related: The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

Nothing is going right for the Colorado Avalanche

Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine (29), Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Mark Scheifele (55) celebrate after Ehlers scored an empty net goal as Colorado Avalanche's Tyson Barrie (4) and Gabriel Landeskog (92) look on during third-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP
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When the Colorado Avalanche last made the playoffs, it was their goalie, Semyon Varlamov, who helped them the most.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 save percentage during that magical 2013-14 season, and for that he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

But there’s nothing magical about the Avs (11-18-1) anymore. They’re the NHL’s worst team, four points back of the second worst, Arizona. Varlamov, meanwhile, is 6-12-0 with a .904 save percentage, and to make matters even worse, now he’s battling a sore groin.

Varlamov’s backup, Calvin Pickard, has been forced to start the last three games, all of them losses. Pickard’s record is 5-6-1 with a .903 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

“Right now it’s major breakdowns that are hurting us,” said forward Jarome Iginla, per the Denver Post. “Our goalies are playing well. It’s unfortunate we’re leaving them … with a few two-on-ones and breakaways. That’s all of us. That’s forwards covering for the D, the D making the right reads. It’s all of us in front of the goalies, and we’re not good enough in that area right now.”

Even great goaltending may not be enough to rescue these Avs, who have the NHL’s second-worst offense (2.17 goals per game), barely ahead of the Coyotes (2.16). Only two Colorado players, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, are providing much in the way of scoring. And even then, Duchene’s team-high 22 points do not crack the top 50 league leaders.

Bottom line: the Avs’ season has been a disaster.

And frankly, it was a disaster before it even started, with Patrick Roy abruptly quitting in August, forcing a frantic coaching search that ended with the hiring of Jared Bednar.

Read more: Bednar rips Avs’ lack of intensity, a familiar refrain this season

Yes, the Avs have had to deal with injuries to Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog. But then, other teams have dealt with much worse, and all of them have dealt with it better than the Avs.

So, what happens now?

To date, GM Joe Sakic has been hesitant to make any big changes.

“It’s early in the year,” he said a few weeks back. “First of all, changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. … We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be.”

At the time, Sakic noted the Avs were only two games below .500 — “a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Today, they’re seven games below .500. To make the playoffs, it’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 29-16-7 the rest of the way.

So essentially, they’re already out of it, save for a miraculous turnaround that does not in any way appear imminent.

That may soon require Sakic to move to Plan B and start selling off veterans like Iginla, or even consider dramatic changes to the core.

At the very least, this core may only have the rest of the season to show Sakic it’s worth keeping together. With attendance suffering and interest dwindling, it will be hard to sell fans more of the same if there isn’t some sign of life down the stretch.

The Avs’ next game is Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild side that’s won seven straight.

Pre-game reading: Radulov has been a real hit in Montreal

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— Up top, Tuukka Rask is focused on getting the Bruins back to the playoffs. He’s gonna have to be good, and busy, especially if Anton Khudobin can’t find some consistency in the backup role.

— Has any player resurrected his reputation more than Alex Radulov has this season in Montreal? “The big Russian forward has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most popular players, if not the most popular,” writes the Montreal Gazette. It sounds like Radulov was a real hit Wednesday when the Habs visited Montreal Children’s Hospital to spread some Christmas cheer. He forgot his teeth, which is always good for a few laughs. (Montreal Gazette)

— Pierre LeBrun breaks down the Los Angeles Kings’ situation ahead of the expansion draft. “It’s a given that Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin will be protected.” What’s in question is whether they’ll protect a fourth defenseman, Brayden McNabb, which could leave forwards like Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, and Trevor Lewis unprotected. A tough decision for GM Dean Lombardi, who still has to get Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson signed to extensions. Shedding Gaborik’s cap hit may actually be advantageous for the Kings, which makes you wonder if Vegas would bite. (ESPN)

— The statistics don’t look good for the slumping Detroit Red Wings. “Particularly alarming has been their inability to generate shots, a category in which they currently sit 30th in the league. They’re 26th in overall shot share as a result, sandwiched between the Senators and Canucks, and in a rather unfamiliar neighborhood.” Indeed, the playoff streak may be coming to an end in the Motor City. (Sportsnet)

— Todd McLellan on coaching Connor McDavid: “I think coaching a superstar from the start of his career is probably a little easier than taking a job where your team’s superstar has already been in the league for seven or eight years and he’s in his prime and you have to figure him out. We’re growing together as a team, a coaching staff and a superstar.” An interesting remark, and probably a fair bit of truth to it. Recall all the hand-wringing when new coaches have taken over the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and especially the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin. (CBC.ca)

— Remember the name Cale Makar, who’s making quite an impression with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Some believe the 18-year-old defenseman should have been invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp. Makar was not draft-eligible in 2016. Where he’s selected in 2017 remains to be seen, but one NHL scout said he “has skill that could make him best defenseman in North America for the draft.” (TSN)

Enjoy the games!