February 4, 2020
Losses have come in all shapes and fashions for the Arizona Coyotes over the past couple months. Ugly losses, close losses and even unexpected losses. Another defeat came at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, but this gave a glimmer of hope rather than concern.
It is hope that goaltender Antti Raanta has returned to form. He made 40 saves, including a skateblade save that had the entire hockey universe. It did not look pretty early on, as Raanta let in a short side goal on just his fifth shot faced, but locked in after that.
It is hope that the Coyotes have broken whatever funk they were in before and just after the All-Star break. They found themselves down two goals early in the second period against the Blackhawks, but fought back and took control of the game.
Dropping games to the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings caused a team meeting on Friday, and Arizona has to learn from last season. Sure, injuries plagued the offense for the Coyotes, but now, they have the firepower. Those players, like Phil Kessel, have to produce in order for the team to clinch a playoff spot.
Tuesday’s matchup with the Edmonton Oilers will show whether Saturday’s effort was the norm, or if it was the outlier. A win at home against a Pacific Division foe would not only help put distance between them and the rest of the Wild Card Race but keep them within six points of the division lead. The Pacific has been a gridlock all season long, and the Coyotes have the ability to get a top seed in the West with consistent performances.
Teams in playoff races each season go through ups and downs, sans the occasional team that runs away with its division, and usually the President’s Trophy. Arizona has been through a rough patch the last month, but it is better to struggle in January rather than late March and early April.
Through all the difficult times since the turn of the calendar, one ugly trend has reversed itself from the start of the season. The Coyotes are now over .500 in points percentage at home, now holding a 12-10-4 record at Gila River Arena.
A big help to that is the seven-game home point streak Arizona has amassed, a 4-0-3 record since New Year’s Eve. Gila River Arena has gone from a home away from home to a house of horrors for visiting teams.
The Coyotes are in a dead heat for the postseason for the second straight season, with most of the roster going through the same thing last season. The hunger is there to avoid the same heartbreak from last year, but the performances have to match.
Last time the Coyotes made the playoffs, the team went on an 11-0-1 run in February. It was a point streak for the ages, and this edition of the Desert Dogs has just as much talent, if not more, to make a similar run. With how tight the playoff race is, an incredible run could be just what the doctor ordered for a franchise trying to break a seven-year postseason drought.