The Arizona Coyotes salvaged their road trip (and their fans' sanity) with a victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday. The Desert Dogs sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with a record of 4-6-1. Their -14 goal differential is worst in the West and tied for second worst in the NHL, only behind Buffalo. Yet, some of the ol' Coyotes hockey is beginning to creep through.
Could hockey the hard way be back or does one game, even a win, tell us even more about the Coyotes' weaknesses? Let's take a look back at the Coyotes' season thus far as a whole:
- Going into the season, I believed the Coyotes were the 20th best team in the NHL and 11th best in the Western Conference (preface following statements with that assumption). So far, that's an overestimation, but it's early. Are the Coyotes really in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes or are they just mediocre. I lean toward the latter.
- Before I get into the negatives, potential improvements and signs of hope, let's address some of the positives 11 games into the season. Keith Yandle has been spectacular. Yes, his patented turnover into opposition scoring chance is still a part of his game, but he has been stronger defensively than in the past and his offensive game is as good as ever. He leads the team in assists (9), points (10) and shots (46).
- Arizona's original top line has been solid, albeit at various times. Mikkel Boedker had a sensational start to the season, while Shane Doan has picked up his play over the last handful of games. Antonie Vermette has been solid throughout. That group has since been separated (a move long needed) and it remains to be seen how long they stay that way.
- Newcomer Sam Gagner is coming on strong. He showed plenty of flashes early on, but could not find the scoresheet. He has three points now and should continue to rack up the points to the tune of .5 per game for the remainder of the season.
- Arizona's defense and goaltending have been atrocious so far this season. The Coyotes allow the most goals per game (3.73) in the entire NHL, .19 goals per game more than any other team. The defense has certainly handcuffed the two goaltenders, but plenty of savable shots hit the back of the net as well.
- Neither goaltender has been anything special. Mike Smith's struggles are well documented, his .873 save percentage tells the story -- ranking fourth worst in the NHL among goaltenders with at least three starts. Dubnyk has not been much better. His .879 is sixth worst in the NHL under those same parameters. You can win in this league with average goaltending -- it's almost impossible to win with awful goaltending.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson's start to the season is as inconsistent as it gets. Not from game to game, but from period to period, play to play. His offensive instincts are as sharp as ever and his stat line bears that out. However, he is making mistakes in his own end not seen since his rookie season. Maybe a couple years of success have lulled the young Swede into a false sense of security? Whatever it is, I expect those issues to resolve themselves over the final 70+ games.
- Getting into the fancy stats for the moment, Arizona's Fenwick Close is 49.0 percent, not too far off from previous seasons. Should they work their way back closer to 50 percent, more wins should come. The Coyotes are not an elite possession team, but they should still improve upon their current number.
- One stat that should give Coyotes fans hope for this season is their current PDO. At 91.4, it's the lowest in the NHL -- meaning the team is perhaps the unluckiest team in the league at the moment. The Coyotes finished each of the previous three seasons with a PDO of 100.3, a reasonable number given the stat's heavy regression to the mean of 100.0. That number has to improve, meaning a few more bounces may go the Coyotes' way the rest of the season.
- Rumblings about the job security of coach Dave Tippett have begun. While the head coach typically takes most of the blame when the team plays poorly, I find it curious that Tippett is taking as much heat as he is from the fans. Looking at their current roster and roster possibilities (Samuelsson, Lessio, Gaudet and Rieder included), I do not see a playoff caliber team on paper. Not sure the blame for this season's failures so far falls primarily on the shoulders of the man behind the bench.