To some extent, the Arizona Coyotes should take wins when they can get them. They’re not exactly at a point where they can afford to wave away even modest gains that might build confidence for the future.
Even so, they’re approaching an awkward point where their hot streak might be a touch self-destructive.
Last night provided almost too-perfect an example, as the Vancouver Canucks and Coyotes squared off in something of a Tank Bowl. It came down to the dying seconds with an exasperated Daniel Sedin unable to beat Darcy Kuemper, who recorded his first shutout with Arizona as the Coyotes won 1-0.
[At the other end of the spectrum, see who tops PHT’s Power Rankings.]
The Coyotes dug themselves far too deep of a hole for most to notice, but they’ve actually been on an upward trend for a while now, even if some of the wins haven’t been very pretty. They’re 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, even with Antti Raanta‘s up-and-down season continuing with a recent injury.
Last night’s shutout win began a five-game homestand for the Coyotes, one that should be fascinating to watch.
While the Canucks are another team that features a Coyotes-like mixture of players hungry to prove themselves and ones who are daydreaming about summer vacations, the next four opponents will try to avoid being spoiled by these pesky Coyotes:
Tue, Mar 13 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Mar 15 vs Nashville
Sat, Mar 17 vs Minnesota
Mon, Mar 19 vs Calgary
For the most part, this Arizona run comes down to stellar goaltending, with Raanta leading much of the way aside from last night’s shutout for Kuemper. With two games against teams already in playoff position (red-hot Predators, rising Wild) and two against teams fighting for their playoff lives (Kings and Flames), it will be interesting to see if the Coyotes’ spoiler trend continues or washes out. If intense opponents call for run-and-gun games, Arizona might not be well-suited for such squabbles.
“Luckily,” the Coyotes will then face a six-game road trip and eight of 10 games on the road to close out the 2017-18 season, so maybe this spoiler talk is really moot. It could, indeed, be a low-expectations version of having your cake and eating it too, as the Coyotes might be able to retain the best draft lottery odds while also putting together at least one stretch to build on for next year.
Race to the bottom
Coyotes: 55 points in 68 games
Sabres: 56 points in 69 GP
Senators: 57 points in 67 GP
Canucks: 59 points in 69 GP
Canadiens: 62 points in 68 GP
Red Wings: 63 points in 68 GP
Oilers: 64 points in 68 GP
It’s interesting to note that, while the Coyotes have suffered quite a few rough seasons lately, they haven’t landed the top overall pick once in Arizona/Phoenix. At minimum, there’s a very real chance the Coyotes may pass the Sabres, and possibly a couple other sinking squads.
With “tanking” in mind, their current home stretch isn’t as important as select dates against other cellar dwellers. There are two such games that stick out in that regard, as they face the Sabres in Buffalo on March 21 and then the Canucks in Vancouver on April 5. You might feel the dissonance in the air during those contests, as fan bases will likely be rooting hard against their own teams, and they’ll prefer to see such losses in regulation.
Tanking is weird.
Note: In other Coyotes news, head coach Rick Tocchet is taking a leave of absence as a family member deals with an illness.
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.