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Coyotes surging behind massive scoring flurry

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Coyotes lost four of their first five games, three by shutout.

Another lost season in the desert apparently on the way.

The thing about those early games, though, is they were close, unlike the start of last season. The Coyotes played well, just couldn’t seem to catch the right break or get pucks to find the net.

Once the pucks started going in, the Coyotes couldn’t seem to miss.

Behind a scoring flurry that would have been unthinkable on previous teams, Arizona is off to its best 11-game start (6-5-0) since 2013-14.

”I really like all our games; we played well in all of them, we competed well,” Coyotes forward Derek Stepan said. ”Yeah, we made some mistakes that cost us some goals early on, but we’re learning quickly.”

It’s been a long-arching curve.

The Coyotes have struggled since reaching the 2012 Western Conference finals, seeming to be in perpetual rebuilding mode. Arizona got last season off to a miserable start, needing 12 games to win for the first time to fall out of playoff contention before the season’s first month was over.

The Coyotes played better the last two months of the 2017-18 season and hoped it would carry over into this season.

It did not, at least early.

Arizona opened the season with a pair of shutout losses and had four goals its first five games – three of those in its lone win.

Then something clicked.

The Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on the road on Oct. 18 and, after a 5-3 loss at Winnipeg, have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams.

With Tuesday night’s 5-1 home win over Ottawa, the Coyotes have outscored opponents 20-4 during a four-game winning streak. Arizona has 27 goals over a six-game span, a first for the franchise since 2006-07.

”The guys were sticking with it and practicing like the goals would come,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. ”You have to have that mentality in this league. We’ve got good mojo right now and we don’t want to wreck it.”

Arizona has been among the league leaders in shots per game since the start of the season and the shooting percentage has dramatically increased since the minuscule 1.6 to start the season.

The Coyotes seemed to get some bad breaks on shots early in the season, hitting posts and crossbars, having pucks squirt out of their reach in the offensive zone. They also didn’t seem to create their own luck by getting traffic in front of the crease and putting shots in spots where goalies could make easy saves.

The breaks have been coming the past few games, such as Stepan’s blue line, short-handed goal that skittered off the ice and through Ottawa goalie Mike Condon‘s pads .

Arizona also has been creating some of that luck with hard, smart play, getting traffic in front of opposing goaltenders and more precise shooting.

”You earn your bounces,” Stepan said. ”We had some bounces going the other way early on in the year, now they’re starting to go our way and in a few weeks, they’re going to come back the other way. Good teams find ways to win any given night regardless of the bounces.”

With the scoring boost, the Coyotes have continued to play stingy defense, the one area that helped them get through the difficult times in the past.

Arizona has limited good chances against and its goalies, Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, have been superb, combining to give the Coyotes the NHL’s best goals-against average at 1.91. Raanta, healthy after an injury-filled first season in the desert, is fourth in the NHL with a 1.99 goals-against average.

The Coyotes also have the NHL’s second-best penalty kill at 90.6 percent and have a league-high six short-handed goals to three power-play goals allowed. Stepan’s goal against Ottawa gave Arizona short-handed goals in three straight games for the second time in franchise history (1985). The Coyotes are 11th NHL team since 1933 to have five short-handed goals in three games.

”When we’re sticking with our game plan and everybody is dialed in, we’re a really good team,” Raanta said. ”As a goalie, it’s a dream to play behind that team.”

Especially when they’re scoring goals, as they are now.

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Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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