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Kuemper’s outstanding 2019 is driving Coyotes’ playoff push

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Plenty has been written about the resiliency the Arizona Coyotes have shown in fighting through injuries during their stunning ascent into what’s currently a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That’s been the case at PHT, for sure, as Sean Leahy’s been able to go in-depth with both coach Rick Tocchet and GM John Chayka regarding those challenges. It’s understandable, as Tocchet described the Coyotes’ rash of injuries as something he’s never seen during his “30-something years” in the NHL.

But, to me, the true story of the Coyotes’ rise comes down to one goalie: Darcy Kuemper.

Kuemper clearly made some New Year’s resolutions

Since Feb. 19, the Coyotes’ 20 points leads all NHL teams, yet they’ve been outshot 401-357 during that same time. They’ve generally been a bottom-third team from a possession stats standpoint this season, and they actually slipped further during this 10-2-0 run.

While the Coyotes have done a better job of winning the high-danger scoring chance battle than they have the overall shot share struggle, Kuemper’s still far-and-away the difference.

During this run, Kuemper’s 10 wins tower over the pack, as the closest since Feb. 19 are a handful of goalies with seven victories. His .943 save percentage sparkles, too.

However, there might be a reflex to wave that off as a matter of small sample sizes. Interestingly, it really seems as though Kuemper became a new goalie once the calendar hit 2019.

Since Jan. 1, Kuemper’s topped all goalies with 19 wins, and he’s collected a stellar .930 save percentage over 27 games played. That’s a resounding turnaround for a goalie whose save percentage was under .900 between November and December.

Kuemper’s pivotal work wasn’t lost on Chayka, as he praised the goalie during that March 8 PHT interview.

“This is the story of our season,” Chayka said. “A guy gets an opportunity they might not of otherwise had with some of the injuries and he steps up and elevates his game. He’s been a big story for us. He’s been a rock for us back there. He gives the guys a lot of confidence and allows them to go and play their game …”

When it was clear by December that Antti Raanta would be out for most, if not all, of the 2018-19 season, I plainly wondered if the Coyotes had any hope of making a playoff push.

There was a feeling of sadness there, as Chayka seemed to identify Raanta as a goalie with high-end starter talent, but maybe not the body (or at least the health luck) to withstand such a workload. Kuemper’s run argues that Chayka actually identified two difference-makers in net.

Who has been scoring?

Kuemper stands as Exhibits A through Z on why the Coyotes are enjoying this meteoric rise, but let’s ponder a few other factors.

Interestingly, there’s only one Coyotes skater who’s been a point-per-game player during this 10-2-0 run over 12 games. With Thursday’s natural hat trick, Vinnie Hinostroza now has 12 points in as many games. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the only other player with double-digits points during that span with 10.

You’d think that Clayton Keller (seven points) and Alex Galchenyuk (four) would have been bigger parts of this jump up the standings, but the Coyotes have instead been scoring by committee … and, of course, mainly keeping other teams from scoring. They only allowed 25 goals during this stretch, just a touch over two goals per game.

(Blurts out Kuemper.)

Interesting tests ahead

While the Coyotes began to heat up during a three-game road trip (losing in Calgary on Feb. 18, then beginning to catch steam with two away victories), they’ve generally played quite a bit at home. The Coyotes went 6-1-0 during a seven-game homestand from Feb. 24 – March 9, forming a big part of this hot streak.

It should be interesting, then, to see how they handle a mixed bag remaining schedule.

On one hand, the slate features quite a few games against non-playoff teams. That’s especially true if the Blackhawks feel less spry by March 26, and the Avalanche find themselves far out of the mix by March 29.

Regardless, after Saturday’s home game against the Oilers, face a four-game road trip, and play five of six away from Glendale from March 21-29.

That’s not the sort of stretch that automatically spells doom, yet it might serve as a challenge for a team that’s sometimes winning by thin margins. (Then again, their last two wins were by 6-1 and 3-1, so maybe they’re heating up on offense, too?)

***

Pointing out how Kuemper-driven Arizona’s run has been isn’t meant to condemn the Coyotes’ efforts. Considering all of their injuries, how else would you realistically expect a team that’s not exactly star-studded to win games?

The Coyotes have built themselves a bit of a buffer ahead of bubble teams like the Wild (get the lowdown at Push for the Playoffs), to the point that they have a strong chance of holding onto a spot.

If they pull this off, Kuemper would really push Jordan Binnington and Nikita Kucherov for (the imaginary) second-half MVP.

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.

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

“We’ve proven we can overcome losing one of our top players and we’re going to have to do it again,” Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters after the 5-2 loss. “Listen, teams throughout the League are handling injuries, and we’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part this season for injuries.”

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.