To steal Zoolander parlance — only appropriate for a team that once employed Martin Hanzal — the Arizona Coyotes are so hot right now.
The Coyotes are on a four-game winning streak following Tuesday’s overtime win against the Rangers, and are 5-0-1 in their last six, erasing the discomfort from an 0-2-0 start where they only managed a single goal.
If the playoffs began right now, the 5-2-1 Coyotes would be the second wild-card team in the West. Could this be a sign that this is finally the year?
Let’s look at what is working so well so far, and how much of it is sustainable, with help from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.
Darcy Kuemper played at such a high level from January on in 2018-19, it seemed like he might just drag the wounded Coyotes to a playoff spot. Even so, it seemed a little hasty when the Coyotes handed Kuemper a two-year, $9 million extension in early October.
Well, if the 29-year-old can stay anywhere near the level he’s been at lately, that could be a mega-steal.
Kuemper’s only allowed 10 goals over six appearances, going 4-2-0 with a sparkling .944 save percentage to begin the season. He’s the first goalie in Coyotes franchise history to allow two or fewer games in 13 consecutive starts, carrying over last season’s red-hot work.
Delightfully for the Coyotes, Antti Raanta‘s shown signs of the sharp goalie he was pre-injury nightmares, as Raanta’s 1-0-1 with a .926 save percentage through two games.
Even if Kuemper is the real deal, one would expect the Coyotes’ league-leading team save percentage of .9388 to cool off; last season, the Islanders topped the NHL with a .9247 mark that would already be tough to match.
It’s plausible that goaltending could remain a strength for Arizona, though, particularly if they maintain their strong start when it comes to possessing the puck and limiting high-danger scoring chances against.
Luck and other peculiarities
As always, it’s important to take any eight-game sample with a grain of salt.
Nick Schmaltz is a good example, alongside goaltending, of “could be good, probably won’t be that good.” He already showed signs of flourishing in a bigger role in Arizona after being traded from Chicago last season (14 points in 17 games before injuries derailed things), but Schmaltz’s nine points in eight games is inflated by puck luck, including a 21.4 shooting percentage. There’s evidence that he might be a strong shooter in general (14.2 shooting percentage in 187 career games), but he’s likely to cool down to some extent.
It will also be interesting to track their power play. Last season, their 16.3 power-play percentage ranked sixth-worst in the NHL. Of course, they added Phil Kessel during the summer, and he’s been part of a unit that’s scored seven goals on 27 opportunities, good for a 25.9 percent success rate that ranks seventh overall.
PDO is a helpful metric for measuring luck (it’s merely save percentage plus shooting percentage), and so it’s worth noting that the Coyotes’ 1.030 mark ties them for fourth-highest at all strengths in this young season.
There’s at least one way where things could get tougher if the Coyotes are perceived as more of a threat.
Five for Howling recently pointed out an interesting trend: so far in 2019-20, the Coyotes have frequently faced opposing teams’ backups. That might be a coincidence, but if it continues to even a subtle extent, it could be helpful in a league ripe with parity.
Fewer trips to the trainers
Last season, the Coyotes were absolutely ravaged by injuries, to the point that it’s tempting to give them a mulligan. So far in 2019-20, Arizona’s been healthier, although it remains to be seen if they can can continue to thrive so much defensively with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the shelf.
Like with most NHL teams, injury luck (or a lack thereof) could be pivotal for Arizona.
Yes, it’s too early to know for sure, but which way do you lean: could this be the year the Coyotes put it together, or will 2019-20 end in another disappointment?
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.