Christian Dvorak

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Coyotes hanging around in playoff race even as injury list grows

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The Arizona Coyotes have every possible reason and every possible excuse to be out of contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Thanks to some strong defensive play, some good goaltending, and a lot of help from the teams around them they are most definitely not out of contention for a playoff spot.

About 10 days ago I took an in-depth look at insane Western Conference Wild Card race that has become a complete log-jam of, uh, let’s just call it mediocrity, with a bunch of teams all separated by a small handful of points.

At the time, there were seven teams separated by six points fighting for what would basically be three playoff spots (the third place spot in the Central Division and two Wild Card spots). One team I omitted from the discussion was the Arizona Coyotes. They were even further back than the rest of that group sitting seven points back of a playoff spot, with an extra game played than most of their competitors, and with five teams sitting between them and a playoff spot. They were only on a 78-point pace for the season and have been one of the hardest hit teams in the league this season for injuries.

It just seemed like a real long shot to even include them based on all of the variables working against them. It was easy to write them off.

In hindsight, at least for now, I seem to have underestimated two things.

First, just how historically weak the lower half of the Western Conference playoff race is where absolutely nobody has shown any ability to distance themselves from everybody else. In just about any other year a 78-point pace halfway through the season would be more than enough to bury a team and all but end their playoff hopes. Over in the Eastern Conference teams on a similar pace are currently sitting at least eight points back and probably preparing to go into sell-mode for the trade deadline. It’s almost as if some of the teams involved in the Western Conference are fighting to stay out of the playoffs as opposed to getting in the playoffs.

And second, I seem to have underestimated just how hard this Coyotes team has played under second-year coach Rick Tocchet and how quickly they have changed their season outlook to at least get back within striking distance of a potential playoff spot.

They are not just hanging around, they are now all of a sudden in the playoff race.

Entering the All-Star break the Coyotes find themselves with a 23-23-4 record, giving them 50 points in the standings. That leaves them only two points back of the current eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche (with now only two teams between them). They have managed to gain that ground by going on a 6-2-2 run over their past eight games.

What stands out about this recent run is the fact they have not only done it by picking up points against some of the league’s elite teams (beating San Jose, getting a point against Pittsburgh in a game they easily could have won, winning in Toronto), they have done it with a roster that just been absolutely devastated by injuries all season. it only kept getting worse on Wednesday night when star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson exited their game against the Montreal Canadiens with a lower-body injury.

He joins a list that now includes veteran forward Michael Grabner, defender Jason Demers, veteran forward and top penalty killer Brad Richardson, recent trade acquisition Nick Schmaltz, and perhaps most important of all, starting goalie Antti Raanta.

And that does not even include third-year forward Christian Dvorak who has not played in a game this season and may miss the season entirely or defender Jakob Chychrun who has missed a significant chunk of the season as well.

At the start of the season I had the Coyotes pegged as a team that could take a massive leap forward this season if a few things went in their favor, specifically as it related to offseason acquisition Alex Galchenyuk (who also missed 10 games earlier this season), the development of recent No. 3 overall pick Dylan Strome, and Raanta’s ability to stay healthy and play like he did when he was in the crease a year ago.

Some of that has worked and some of it hasn’t.

Galchenyuk has been fine once he returned to to the lineup, while Strome was traded to Chicago for Schmaltz. But Schmaltz was playing pretty well after the trade until he also recently joined the list of walking wounded. He is now done for the season.

Raanta is the one that seems like it should have been the crushing blow. When he was in the lineup last season he was good enough to allow the Coyotes to play at a pace that would have put them on the fringes of playoff contention over a full season, if not actually in a playoff spot. It was when he was out of the lineup due to injury, with no capable backup behind him, that the house of cards fell over.

That has not been the case this season where veteran backup Darcy Kuemper has done an outstanding job to keep the Coyotes in games and give them a chance on most nights, and especially throughout the month of January.

This is all encouraging, and should at least offer some hope that when this team has all of its pieces in place there could be something to build on here.

What’s discouraging is we will not see that this season because most of the players that are currently injured are done for a long time.

Schmaltz and Raanta are all done for the season. Dvorak might be done as well. Demers and Grabner are still sidelined for an undetermined amount of time and if Ekman-Larsson has to miss any games that will be a problem. For a team that was short on depth to begin with, especially offensively, that is a lot to overcome.

So far, thanks to some excellent goaltending recently and some stingy defense that has seen them be one of the best shot suppression teams in the league over the past 16 games (a stretch that has seen them go 9-5-2), they have managed to overcome it.

Whether or not it results in what would be a stunning playoff berth remains to be seen, but they have at least given themselves a chance to keep fighting for one this season.

MORE:
Arizona Coyotes place Antti Raanta on injured reserve
Nick Schmaltz done for season as Coyotes’ injury woes continue
How has Alex Galchenyuk fit in with Coyotes

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.

 

Schmaltz’s season is over as Coyotes’ injury woes continue

The Arizona Coyotes were already one of the league leaders in terms of man-games lost due to injury.

That total is only going to get worse.

The team announced on Tuesday that forward Nick Schmaltz will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2018-19 season due to a lower-body injury.

Schmaltz has not played since Dec. 30, missing each of the team’s past three games.

It is disappointing news for the Coyotes because Schmaltz had been playing very well since he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season in exchange for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. In his first 17 games with the Coyotes he had tallied 14 total points (five goals, nine assists) and was on pace for more than 50 points overall for the second year in a row.

The 22-year-old forward scored 21 goals and 52 total points in his first full NHL season a year ago with the Blackhawks.

Strome has had nearly identical production for the Blackhawks since the trade.

Along with Schmaltz, the Coyotes are also currently without Michael Grabner, Christian Dvorak, Jason Demers, and starting goalie Antti Raanta due to injury.

Alex Galchenyuk, Jakob Chychrun, and Alex Goligoski have also missed significant time this season due to injury. All of that has helped contribute to another difficult season for the Coyotes.

Entering play on Tuesday the Coyotes are in 12th place in the Western Conference with an 18-21-3 record, sitting six points out of a playoff spot with four teams in front of them.

Related: Strome making most of his fresh start with the Blackhawks

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.

Chychrun latest Coyotes’ youngster to sign long-term

Defenseman Jakob Chychrun will be making his 2018-19 season debut for the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night in Detroit after missing the first 16 games while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last season.

His season debut is only the second biggest piece of news regarding him on Tuesday.

Less than an hour before puck drop, the Coyotes announced that the 20-year-old Chychrun has signed a six-year contract extension with the team. Financial terms of the deal were not released, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports it will pay him $4.6 million per season, which comes out to a total of $27.6 million over the duration of the contract.

Chychrun would have been a restricted free agent after this season.

This is the second young player the Coyotes have locked up to a long-term deal over the past few months, following the six-year, $27 million contract Christian Dvorak signed back in August.

“We are extremely pleased to sign Jakob to a six-year contract extension,” general manager John Chayka said in a team statement.

“Jakob is a young, highly skilled defenseman with an incredibly bright future. He has battled through some adversity with injuries the last two years, but we remain confident that he has the necessary size, talent and work ethic to be one of our core players for many years to come.”

The injuries that Chayka mentions have limited Chychrun, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2016 draft, to just 118 total games over the first two years of his career, making this a pretty significant commitment for a player that doesn’t really have an extensive track record in the NHL. Even so, there is no doubt the potential is there, and if Chychrun is able to follow the same path he has started on and — most importantly — is able to stay healthy there is a very good chance that he can end up outperforming this contract while still being in the prime of his career when it ends (which would be good news for him).

When he has been healthy Chychrun has showed plenty of promise, especially offensively where he has already tallied 11 goals and 23 assists.

When it comes to the short-term outlook, Chychrun’s return will be a big boost to a Coyotes team that has been playing some outstanding hockey over the past couple of weeks. Arizona enters Tuesday’s game in Detroit as one of the league’s top defensive teams and is 7-3-1 in its past 11 games.

With Chychrun in the lineup the Coyotes now have six regulars in their lineup age 22 or younger, and that does not include Dvorak (age 22) who is currently on injured reserve and yet to appear in a game this season.

They now have nine players signed through at least the 2020-21 season, with three of them (Chychrun, Dvorak, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson) signed through at least the 2024-25 season.

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’ Dvorak sidelined indefinitely by torn pectoral

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

“We looked at our options and decided that surgery was our best option to get him back as soon as possible,” Chayka told reporters on Friday. “He had the procedure this morning and it went very well. Now it’s the road to recovery and it’ll be a number of months.”

Dvorak was injured last week during a rehab skate for an unrelated injury.

“The doctors told us it’s a fairly unique injury, especially for hockey players, and then the severity of the tear, it differs from person to person,” Chayka said. “You hope it’s not the season, but it’s not out of the question.”

The 22-year-old Dvorak has yet to play this season, his third with the Coyotes. He had 15 goals in each of his first two seasons.

Pacific Division continues to get hammered by injuries

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It would appear that injuries are pilling up on Pacific Division teams to start the season, and it’s a who’s who when it comes to names.

The latest is a lower-body injury for Los Angeles Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick, who is listed as day-to-day with the ailment.

The injury reportedly happened at practice, and backup Jack Campbell has already been named the starter for Los Angeles’ game on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Campbell has proven to be a capable replacement, going 2-0-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in four starts last season.

The Kings are already without Dustin Brown, who sustained a broken finger in the preseason and needed surgery to repair it.

Bonus for Peter Budaj fans, he’s back in the NHL.

The injury bug has taken a chunk out of the San Jose Sharks, too, after Joe Thornton was placed on injured reserve on Sunday after flying home from the team’s Eastern Conference road trip.

Jumbo Joe, 39, is dealing with swelling in his right knee, which was surgically repaired after he tore his ACL and MCL last season. Thornton has had catastrophic injuries to both of his knees now in the past two years. Despite his age, he’s been averaging around 16 minutes a night with the talent-laden Sharks this season.

The Anaheim Ducks received more bad news on Sunday after it was revealed that Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day lower-body injury after leaving Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Getzlaf joins a growing list of walking wounded in Anaheim, with Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, Ryan Kesler and Ondrej Kase all sidelined.

Despite what seems like some big holes in the Ducks’ lineup, Anaheim is 2-0 to start the season. John Gibson grabbed his first shutout of the campaign in a 1-0 win Saturday.

The Coyotes have been woeful to start the season, having yet to register a goal in their first two games.

Injuries have played a role in that, too, of course.

Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun are all stuck in the infirmary for the Coyotes.

The Calgary Flames are without Travis Hamonic after a fight resulted in a facial fracture for the defenseman, who is now week-to-week as he recovers.

Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch remain sidelined in Vegas.

Really, the only team to come through relatively unscathed here is Vancouver.

It’s been a tough opening week on the west coast.

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