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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.