Getty

Coyotes’ penalty kill has been incredible

2 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. In the end, it had to be a mostly disappointing result given that they entered the third period with a two-goal lead, but they were still able to collect another point and are now 6-2-1 in their past nine games after winning just one of their first five.

Still a lot of good news if you are a Coyotes fan when it comes to the big picture outlook for the season.

One of the biggest reasons they were able to collect another point on Thursday was yet another incredible performance by their penalty killing unit which might be, through the first month of the season, the single most impressive unit in the league.

They not only killed off all three Flyers’ power plays on the night, but they also scored two more shorthanded goals. Those two shorthanded goals came on the same penalty kill in the second period, and were just 23 seconds apart.

On its own that would be an incredible performance, even if just for one game. But the Coyotes have been doing this all season, and have already scored nine shorthanded goals in only 14 games. 

They have only scored 22 goals at even-strength in those 14 games. Even more ridiculous is the fact their own power play has only scored seven.

Since the start of the 1990 season only five teams have had more than five shorthanded goals this far into November. The 1993-94 St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers both have seven. The 1991-92 Philadelphia Flyers, 2005-06 Montreal Canadiens, and 2008-09 New York Rangers all had six.

The Coyotes, once again, currently have nine.

There were only five teams in the entire league a year ago that scored more than nine shorthanded goals for the entire season.

They have scored those nine goals on only 45 penalty kills, the sixth lowest number in the league. That means they are scoring on exactly 20 percent of their penalty kills. To put that number in perspective, there are currently 14 power play units in the NHL (including the Coyotes’) that are converting on less than 20 percent of their power play opportunities.

These are absurd numbers, and it is not just about the goals scored.

They are generating a ton of shots, too, at least relative to the rest of the league. So far this season they are averaging more than 20 shots on goal per 60 minutes of penalty kill time. No other team in the league is averaging more than 18, while only four averaging more than 15. The league average is around 12.

What makes the performance offensively even more incredible is they are not giving it up at the other end. It is not the result of an overly aggressive strategy that is leaving them exposed defensively where they give up as much as they score or generate. As of Friday, their penalty killing unit is also allowing the third fewest total shot attempts per 60 minutes of PK time.

They have only allowed four goals and currently have a league-best 91.1 percent success rate when down a player.

Overall, they still have a positive goal differential at plus-five.

Only one team in the league is better than minus-four (the San Jose Sharks are at minus-three).

So what is behind this performance? When it comes to the goals they are scoring there is almost certainly an element of luck and circumstance at play here. No matter how good your penalty killing unit it you don’t need me to tell you that it unreasonable to expect a team to keep scoring shorthanded goals at that pace (and outscoring opposing power plays) over an entire season.

Still, given the number of chances they are creating and the number of shots the unit is generating (as well as the shots they are not allowing their opponents to register) suggests there is also plenty of skill on the unit as well. Goaltending will always play a big role for a team’s penalty kill, and when healthy the Coyotes have an outstanding goaltender in Antti Raanta.

But when it comes to the skaters a lot of the success has to start up front where the Coyotes boast two of the best penalty killing forwards in the league when it comes to generating shorthanded opportunities in Michael Grabner and Derek Stepan.

Of the 160 forwards that have played at least 150 shorthanded minutes since the start of the 2016-17 season, Grabner and Stepan are both among the top-eight (Grabner is second; Stepan is eighth) in shot attempt percentage, while Grabner (currently the team’s top shorthanded option among forwards) is in the top-15 in terms of shot suppression and goals against. His speed is a game-changer and can cause havoc for opposing power plays. He and the rest of his teammates (including Stepan, Brad Richardson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers) are doing a number on every power play unit they have faced this season.

They are going to get two big tests in their upcoming games when they go on the road to face the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It will be interesting to see how they fare against two of the most intimidating and talented power plays in the league.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Coyotes place Antti Raanta on injured reserve

Getty
Leave a comment

An early-season injury to Antti Raanta factored heavily into the Arizona Coyotes going through the first month of 2017-18 without a single win. Such a thought must be on the minds of some Coyotes fans and players on Wednesday, as it looks like the talented goalie has been placed on IR.

Now, a trip to injured reserve doesn’t always mean that a player will miss a lot of time. Rick Tocchet and others seem to label Raanta as day-to-day; while that term can be nebulous, it sure beats week-to-week.

Without knowing for sure how much time Raanta will miss, it still frustratingly fits into a puzzle of “one step forward, two step backwards” (or at least walking in place) for the Coyotes.

(The Athletic’s Craig Morgan reports that Raanta tweaked something during a recent practice.)

While Arizona’s record is a middling 7-6-0, they had really been picking up steam, as Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers ended a five-game winning streak.

Raanta was strong when he was able to play during his first season with the Coyotes (a sparkling .930 save percentage), making it that much more frustrating that he was limited to 47 games. The 29-year-old’s individual play has exceeded his 5-4-0 record so far in 2018-19, as he’s sporting a nearly identical .929 save percentage through nine contests.

Early on as a No. 1 starter, it sure looks like Raanta possesses the skill to be a top guy. That said, as Andrei Vasilevskiy can attest, it’s not easy to handle the workload of a workhorse goalie, and the jury is currently out on Raanta pulling that off.

On the bright side, the Coyotes could be in a decent spot if Raanta does miss some time. Darcy Kuemper‘s off to a hot start so far, generating an even-better .936 save percentage over four games. Kuemper’s coming off an up (while with the Kings) and down (once being traded to Arizona) 2017-18 campaign, which ultimately looked pretty good considering his .920 save percentage in 29 games.

Kuemper could present a safety net in net, then, although the Coyotes’ sometimes-anemic scoring (impressive lately, but ice-cold to start the season) means that there might not be much of a margin for error.

As Tocchet said, here’s hoping this is just a minor hiccup for a Coyotes team that’s eager to finally be competitive again, and the goalie who’s the most important piece in doing exactly that.

For their next game, the Coyotes will meet with the Flyers again, this time in Philly on Thursday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Isles goalies answering questions; dependable Raanta

2 Comments
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.

• Fantasy Hockey GMs looking for advice should check out Rotoworld’s “Waiver Wired” column. Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch is worth adding off the wire.  (Rotoworld)

• Coming into this season, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the Islanders goalies. But so far, Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner have been solid. (Newsday)

• Which jersey do NHLers around the league think is the best one? No surprise here. (NHL.com)

• NBC Sports Philly explains why Bobby Clarke is the greatest Philadelphia Flyer of all time. (NBC Sports Philly)

• The Anaheim Ducks are glad that they’ve made some progress recently, but the results still haven’t been there for them. (OC Register)

• With Auston Matthews sidelined by a shoulder injury, Mitch Marner has stepped up in a big way. (Toronto Star)

Antti Raanta spent several years as a backup goalie, but he’s turning into a dependable starting goaltender in Arizona right now. (NHL.com)

Jason Pominville celebrated his 1,000th NHL game in style over the weekend, and he was extremely grateful that his family could be there with him. “It’s tough not to get choked up when you see the kids, see them on the ice,” Pominville said. “Even during the game. It was kind of fortunate we had a lead. I was able to look up and hear most of them. Just a lot of people that have meant a lot to me throughout my career. A lot of great players, and great memories with them. It was pretty emotional at times.” (Buffalo News)

• The Calgary Flames have quite a few Swedes on their roster, so that group, which includes Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm and Rasmus Andersson, can speak in multiple languages on the ice. (Calgary Sun)

• After years of on-ice frustration, Yanni Gourde was finally rewarded with a huge contract extension. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Sometimes, teams spend a ton of money in free agency only to have those signings fail. Other times, teams make low-risk signings that work out beautifully. The Hockey News looks at five summer acquisitions that have made a surprisingly positive impact on their teams. (The Hockey News)

• Did Wayne Gretzky really end up playing for the Edmonton Oilers because of a high stakes game of backgammon? This is a wild story. (Sportsnet)

• The Ottawa Senators played their 2,000th game in the NHL, and Randy Sexton has so many memories since the team joined the league. The Sens have come a long way. (Ottawa Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Pettersson notches five points; Luongo wins in return

Associated Press
6 Comments

Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

You get the sense that this kid is going to be written in this top spot many times over the next 15 years. He’s just bloody special. Pettersson had two goals and five points in a 7-6 win against the Colorado Avalanche. His second goal of the game came with the score 6-5 Avalanche and 35 seconds left on the clock in the third period. Clutch. Also clutch? An assist on the game-winner in overtime. Pettersson has nine goals and 15 points now in nine games and is starting to run away in the rookie of the year race in early November.

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo wasn’t supposed to feature in Finland at first. Then he was brought on the trip, taken off injured reserve and placed into the net for the first time since around the 32-minute mark of Florida’s season opener. And Luongo picked up right where he left off, saving a lot of pucks. ‘Lou’ shut the door 32 times against the Winnipeg Jets as the Panthers earned a split in Finland. The win was Florida’s third of the season. James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson have been south of brutal thus far so Luongo can stay healthy, it’s likely Florida can start clawing its way back.

3. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes

You have to hand it to a goalie who stopped 48 of 51 shots against a high-power Carolina Hurricanes team. Raanta was the savior on special teams as well, turning aside nine power-play shots on six Carolina power plays. Carolina was 0-for-6 on their opportunities. Raanta and the Coyotes survived a flurry in the third period after getting outshot 23-5 in the final frame. Raanta then had to make a clutch save in overtime to boot to help ‘Yotes to their fifth straight win.

A couple other notables:

  • Brock Boeser snapped an eight-game goalless streak with two goals against Colorado
  • Nathan MacKinnon had a three-point night, including two goals and is up to 11 markers on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Holy moly:

That footwork:

Goalie hat trick:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 4, Jets 2

Coyotes 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Canucks 7, Avalanche 6 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Why there’s reason to believe in Coyotes

1 Comment

When we last checked in with the Arizona Coyotes they had just dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild, had won just one of their first five games, and were off to what was quite literally one of the worst offensive starts in league history.

A lot has changed since then. In the five games since, the Coyotes have won four of them and are coming off of an especially impressive 7-1 demolition of the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the league’s best teams and a consistent powerhouse, on Saturday night. They have put their slow offensive start behind them and scored at least three goals in all five games (including at least four goals in four of the games), have won all four games by at least three goals, and now have one of the 10 best goal differentials in the entire league.

Yes, this is an extremely small sampling of games, and yes there is always the potential that it could be a mirage. It is, after all, very early in the season and sometimes what you see here is not what you are going to get over the course of 82 games. But I am here to tell you that there are reasons to believe that this is not a mirage, and that the Coyotes are finally starting to put it together.

First, they have had a remarkably stingy defense to start the season. One of the best in the league, to be exact.

Even when they were losing over the first two weeks they had only surrendered 11 goals over those five games. For their season, their 2.00 goals against average per game is the best in the NHL. They are allowing just 28.2 shots on goal per game, the fourth best mark in the NHL. In terms of 5-on-5 shot attempt differential they are sixth in the league, as is their scoring chance differential.

In other words, they have been dictating the pace and pushing the play in all of their games, and in all of the key areas of the ice. What crushed them at the start was the simple fact that they could not actually put the puck in the net. And while they are probably never going to be a consistently great offense as currently constructed, they weren’t going to keep shooting at the laughably low 1.6 percent they had in those games, either. As long as they kept generating chances and shots (as they have) they were eventually going to see some positive reward for that. Lately, they have.

The biggest problem for the 2017-18 Coyotes was that they had an impossibly bad start that saw them lose their first 11 games, and 18 out of their first 20. By the middle of November they were already seven points behind the second-worst team in the standings (at the time the Buffalo Sabres) even though they had played in two additional games at that point. It was a hole they were never going to climb out of no matter what they did the rest of the way. At the center of that horrendous start was the fact they spent most of that time without starting goalie Antti Raanta as he was sidelined for most of the first month of the season, and then took a little bit of time to get back to 100 percent once he was able to return to the lineup. In his place was a revolving door of backups that, frankly, were not ready for NHL action. The results proved to be disastrous.

Once Raanta got back into the lineup the Coyotes were a fairly competitive team.

Over the final 62 games of the season they were 27-26-9, which comes out to around an 84-point pace over a full season.

Still not enough to get into the playoffs, but enough to be competitive.It was over the final 30 games where things really started to come together, finishing with a 17-10-3 record, and beating a lot of really good, playoff bound teams in the process. At times decisively. A lot of it was due to the play of Raanta, as he was sensational once he returned to health, but it showed just how much of a difference competent goaltending can make for a young, rebuilding team.

He has been just as good to start this season, and now the team in front of him is helping him out by limiting the number of shots and chances he has had to face. Together, it has been a great combination for the Coyotes and given them a chance to win every single night, even if it hasn’t always resulted in an actual win. This is the important thing: The process is starting to get there. They are doing the right things a team needs to do to win, mostly control the puck and outchance your opponent. Overall, the Coyotes have played 40 games since Feb. 6 and have a 22-15-3 record during that stretch. That’s a half-season worth of games where they have played at a 96-point pace. That gets you in the playoffs in almost every season.

They are also going to have a really good opportunity to continue this recent stretch and stack up some early season points as their next four games are against Ottawa, Carolina and back-to-back games against Philadelphia. That is a big opportunity they have to take advantage of.

Also working in their favor this season is the fact the Pacific Division is a mostly uninspiring pile of mediocrity.

The Ducks and Kings are both lousy, and even with a better than expected start the Canucks will no doubt soon join them. The Flames are completely underwhelming, and the Oilers are still a giant mystery that will probably only go as far as Connor McDavid can carry them. The Sharks are going to be at the top and Vegas will probably overcome it’s slow start and get back on track, but after that the entire division is completely wide open. Nearly one month into the season the Coyotes and Sharks are the only teams in the division that have actually outscored their opponents.

This is a team with an excellent goalie in Raanta, whose .922 save percentage is third in the NHL since the start of the 2013-14 season (among 44 goalies that have appeared in at least 140 games) behind only John Gibson and Corey Crawford, and a roster in front of him that is starting to play lockdown defense. That combination can carry a team a long way, even with a mediocre offense.

Now that Alex Galchenyuk is back in the lineup they have a respectable 1-2 punch down the middle with him and Derek Stepan, and an emerging top-line winger in Clayton Keller. They still need a player like Dylan Strome to take a big step forward to help solidify the offense, but as long as they keep shutting teams down the way they have and getting the goaltending they are getting from Raanta (and what backup Darcy Kuemper has given them so far) they are going to be a difficult team to deal with.

The process in terms of the way they are playing and playing the right way has been there from the start of the season.

The results are starting to follow.

(Shot attempt and scoring chance data via Natural Stat Trick)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.