Western Conference

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.

Western Conference Round 2 begins on Friday

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Hours before the first of three Eastern Conference Game 7s was set to begin, the NHL announced its plans for the West.

The Round 2 series between Phoenix and Nashville will begin on Friday, followed by the commencement of St. Louis-Los Angeles on Saturday.

Here’s the rundown in full:

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators

Game 1: Friday, Apr. 27 at Phoenix
Game 2: Sunday, Apr. 29 at Phoenix
Game 3: Wednesday, May 2 at Nashville
Game 4: Friday, May 4 at Nashville

No. 2 St. Louis Blues at No. 8 Los Angeles Kings

Game 1: Saturday, Apr. 28 at St. Louis
Game 2: Monday, Apr. 30 at St. Louis
Game 3: Thursday, May 3 at L.A.
Game 4: Sunday, May 6 at L.A.

Notes

— The Blues and Predators will have the longest layoffs (seven days). The Kings will have six days off between games, the Coyotes four.

— Much like in the first round, scheduling Kings games at the Staples Center is a difficult task. The NBA playoffs begin on Apr. 28 with the Lakers and Clippers both angling for home-court advantage in the first round.

— The complete Eastern and Western Conference Semifinals schedule, including start times and television information, will be released after the New York-Ottawa and Florida-New Jersey games Thursday night.

L.A. coach Sutter on playoff race: “There ain’t no weak sisters”

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You can’t blame Kings coach Darryl Sutter for lacking answers right now.

His team — currently in ninth place with 72 points — is right in the thick of a Western Conference playoff chase that includes seventh-place Dallas (75 points), eighth-place San Jose (73), 10th-place Colorado (72) and 11th-place Calgary (70).

So when LA Kings Insider asked Sutter who he was cheering for prior to Sunday’s Stars-Flames matchup, Sutter responded accordingly:

“Can they both get nothing?’’

Unfortunately, the answer was an emphatic no. The Stars won 3-2 in a shootout, meaning both got points out of the deal — proving the race is tighter than ever, teams are fighting hard to stay live and nobody seems to be dropping out.

“There ain’t no weak sisters,” Sutter explained. “You try to take care of your own, and get a little help. A better way to look at it is, it’s better to get it down to three or four teams.

“That’s probably a better way of looking at it.’’

Comparatively speaking, this year’s Western Conference chase is on par with last season’s:

Mar. 5, 2012                      Mar. 5, 2011

7. Dallas (75)                     7. Calgary (77)
8. San Jose (73)                8. L.A. (76)
9. L.A (72)                         9. Anaheim (75)
10. Colorado (72)               10. Nashville (75)
11. Calgary (70)                 11. Minnesota (74)

And, if you’ll recall, things got pretty wild down the stretch. Chicago plummeted to eighth (Dallas, in sixth place on Mar. 5, fell out entirely) while Anaheim surged into fourth, Nashville into fifth and LA to seventh. Calgary fell to 10th.