By any measure, a 22 standings points improvement over last season is the mark of a successful season. Unfortunately for the Arizona Coyotes, the hole they dug themselves into last season was too deep to catapult them back into the playoffs.
Hope, disappointment, and uncertainty surround the Coyotes as they play their final game of the 2015-16 season in San Jose against the San Jose Sharks.
Matchup at a Glance
|Arizona Coyotes||San Jose Sharks|
|Points||78 (4th Pacific)||96 (3rd Pacific)|
|Goals For||2.57 (21st)||2.91 (4th)|
|Goals Against||3.00 (28th)||2.56 (12th)|
|Power Play||17.9% (T-19th)||22.7% (T-2nd)|
|Penalty Kill||77.2% (28th)||80.2% (T-22nd)|
|5v5 Corsi For||46.9% (28th)||51.7% (T-9th)|
|PDO||100.5 (T-10th)||100.0 (14th)|
View from Arizona
The Arizona Coyotes find themselves at a crossroads as their season comes to an end. On the one hand, young forwards like Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, and Tobias Rieder have dazzled, while surprising performances from Brad Richardson, Jordan Martinook, and Shane Doan have supplemented Arizona's bright young core. There are plenty of reasons for optimism up front.
But what will this team look like in the future? Mike Smith and Louis Domingue finished the season strong, but in front of an incredibly porous defense. Their possession numbers are equally worrying, and as the team is currently structured, they look less like the Chicago Blackhawks and more like the Colorado Avalanche.
Will the Coyotes be able to get the formula right? Can their young forwards continue to develop in lockstep with their established depth players? And can the defense get fixed in time to open Arizona's Stanley Cup window? These are all questions that will be answered sooner rather than later.
View from San Jose
For the latest on the Sharks, check out Fear The Fin
San Jose enters tonight's game with nothing to play for; they are locked into the third spot in the Pacific Division, and a Southern California clash with one of the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings. After looking like a total mess just one season ago, the Sharks are heading back to the playoffs with a solid looking squad.
In large part, San Jose's success should be attributed to the stellar play of Joe Thornton, who should receive serious Hart Trophy consideration this year. Thornton heads into tonight's game averaging a point per game, with 19 goals and 62 assists. He is having his best statistical season since 2009-10, and the Sharks are reaping the rewards.
The big key to San Jose's postseason fortunes will rest in the goaltending. James Reimer has been absolutely phenomenal in his brief time in San Jose, amassing a 6-2-0 record with a .938 save percentage and three shutouts. Martin Jones has a respectable .917 save percentage in 64 games behind him, but right now it's hard to argue that Reimer is not the guy to start in net when the playoffs kick off.
Keys to the Game
1. Fundamentals - The Coyotes need to end the season doing the right things. Make simple plays out of the defensive, follow defensive assignments, and put the puck on net.
2. Stop Allowing Late Goals - The blown leads against St. Louis and Nashville were devastating, partially because they were preventable. Avoid taking penalties and make the most of the chances you get.
3. In the Words of Pierre McGuire - Have fun out there.
Players to Watch
Shane Doan needs two goals to reach 30 on the year, while Max Domi needs two to reach 20. Wouldn't it be nice if they could both do it tonight?
Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been commanding the bulk of the Norris Trophy talk this season, but don't forget about Brent Burns. Burns has 74 points this year, a career best by a long shot.
Anders Lindback, Michael Stone, Joe Vitale, and Martin Hanzal are all shut-down for injury reasons, while Jarred Tinordi and Louis Domingue will not play either. Nicklas Grossmann is likely to rejoin the team after being away to witness the birth of his child.
San Jose will not have Matt Tennyson back anytime soon due to concussion issues, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Nieto are both targeting playoff returns with their assorted injuries. Dainius Zubrus missed San Jose's last game, and it is unclear if he will play tonight.
Tonight's game gets underway at 7:30 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on AZ Sports 98.7 FM.