Push for the Playoffs: Coyotes’ losing streak putting playoff hopes in danger

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Despite a rash of injuries throughout the season the Arizona Coyotes have managed to stick around in the Western Conference playoff race longer than anyone expected them to at the start of the year.

Now that surprising run is in danger of falling apart at the end as they carry a five-game losing streak into Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, a game that begins a crucial three-game stretch against teams competing for the second Wild Card spot in the West.

The biggest issue for the Coyotes recently has been the fact that their offense has completely abandoned them at the worst possible time of the season. They have struggled to consistently score all year, but have managed just six goals during their current skid and are coming off of a 2-0 shutout loss against the New York Islanders over the weekend (which came after a shootout loss against a bad New Jersey Devils team). That drought has squandered what has been more sensational goaltending from Darcy Kuemper, who has been thrust into the starter’s role as he continues to fill in for the injured Antti Raanta. He has stopped 56 out of 59 shots over the past two games, a stretch where the Coyotes managed just one out of a possible four points.

Arizona enters the day two points back of the Colorado Avalanche for the second Wild Card spot and three points ahead of the Blackhawks.

A Coyotes win on Tuesday would at least tie them with Colorado and all but eliminate the Blackhawks, who are running out of time to make a move and barely hanging on to their postseason chances.

After hosting Chicago on Tuesday, the Coyotes’ next two games are against the Avalanche and Wild, the two biggest competitors they have for that playoff spot.

How they perform in those three games will pretty much dictate what happens to their season.

In the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets are both in action for what is another pivotal day in their race. The playoff race in that conference is pretty much just down to those two teams fighting for one spot. Depending on Tuesday’s results, the Blue Jackets could either find themselves tied with Montreal in the standings (a Montreal regulation loss to Florida and a Columbus win against the Islanders) or four points out (a Columbus regulation loss and a Montreal win).

That is a huge potential swing for one day, especially since Columbus only has six games remaining on its schedule after Tuesday.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Hurricanes vs. Capitals (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream)
Islanders vs. Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET)
Panthers vs. Canadiens (7 p.m. ET)
Blackhawks vs. Coyotes (10 p.m. ET)

TODAY’S PLAYOFF CLINCHING SCENARIOS

  • Washington Capitals clinch a playoff spot if they win and the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets both lose in regulation.
  • The St. Louis Blues clinch a playoff spot if the Arizona Coyotes lose.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights clinch a playoff spot if the Arizona Coyotes lose.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Penguins — 100 percent
Islanders — 99.8 percent
Hurricanes — 98.7 percent
Blue Jackets — 51.1 percent
Canadiens — 50.8 percent
Flyers — Out
Panthers — Out
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Stars — 96.3 percent
Avalanche — 68.3 percent
Coyotes — 20.8 percent
Wild — 9 percent
Blackhawks — 4.3 percent
Oilers — 1.3 percent
Canucks — Out
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Rangers — 8.5 percent
Sabres — 7.5 percent
Ducks — 6.5 percent
Canucks — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Panthers — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets — 1 percent**
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)
(**OTT owns CBJ’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 121 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 102 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 95 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 94 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 94 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals

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.

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.