Join Scott and Seth as they talk professional hockey in the Desert SW. Tonight, the final 12 games of the NHL Season for the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights, as well as play-off positioning.
February 17, 2020
In the back half of 2019, the Arizona Coyotes made moves to get big-time names and talents. While the trades for wingers Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall have brought much needed offensive production, there are two players who have been pitching in under the radar.
Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak are playing pivotal roles in the Coyotes success so far this season. Arizona is entrenched in a tight race out West, where they sit in the final Wild Card spot with 68 points after Monday’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Monday.
Schmaltz was traded to the Coyotes last season, and busted onto the scene with 14 points in 17 games. He then suffered a knee injury in December of last season that required surgery, and the team was without the jolt of offense it was hoping for down the stretch in a tight playoff race. For Schmaltz,
having to watch his team without being able to contribute was hard.
“I think it was tough mentally,” Schmaltz said. “Sitting out and watching your team, not being able to help. Sitting out for that long of a period is really tough.”
Dvorak’s journey back was almost the opposite timeline of Schmaltz. He had to sit out the start of the 2018-2019 season still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. He made his season debut in February,and played 20 games to close out the regular season, adding to the center depth the Coyotes needed.
This is not the first time that Dvorak had dealt with an injury in his time as a Coyote. He missed the final four games of the 2017-2018 season with an ailing back, and the pectoral tear was a tough setback last training camp.
Dvorak shared the same sentiment as Schmaltz when it came to watching his teammates while recovering, but he was inserted into a playoff race upon return. It was a situation that was “very exciting” for him.
“I had never really been in a playoff race in my handful of years here [in Arizona],” Dvorak said. “It was pretty cool to enter that. It was fun to get back to playing, missing so much of the season. So it was a pretty cool experience to jump right into the middle of that.”
The summer of 2019 provided a chance for both players to come back stronger than ever. While the playoffs are always a goal for any NHL player, a full off-season gave a chance for two of the Coyotes key offensive pieces to gear up for not only a chase for the playoffs, but a deep run as well.
Despite the injuries, both players did not change a lot when it came to their preparation for this season. For Dvorak, he focused on the hockey skills that have helped him get 37 points and center the top line with Taylor Hall.
“(I) tried to improve my speed and my first three steps,” Dvorak said. “I tried to work on my skill work as well. Puck handling, shooting… so that was my main focus throughout the summer.”
According to Schmaltz, the injury last year was the first time he had to go through the process to get back. His summer consisted of strengthen his knee, and making sure the rest of his body is ready for the long grind of the season.
“Just making sure I’m strengthened in all the areas around my knee to make sure I am good enough to come back,” Schmaltz said, “and making sure I’m not re-injuring anything else. Not just mainly focusing on the knee, just everything around it to make sure everything is working properly.”
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.