After a characteristically slow start, the Arizona Coyotes have started clicking again in a big way. They are currently riding a four-game point streak and have faced off against some of the tougher teams in the league. But other than the fact that they are scoring as of late, not much has changed from their two losses to start the season, things are just finally clicking for the Desert Dogs.
In a bit of a surprise, the Coyotes’ power play was the biggest contributor to their success on Thursday. Arizona’s power play has struggled for years, but this season it took until the fifth game before they could convert with the man advantage. And while scoring two power play goals against the Winnipeg Jets was nice, they took it to another level scoring three against the Nashville Predators. Phil Kessel would get the first and third and Jakob Chychrun scored the eventual game-winner on the power play after a beautiful pass from Nick Schmaltz.
In a truly welcome sight, the Coyotes increased offense hasn’t come at the cost of defense. Arizona would allow only two goals, Dante Fabbro in the second and Nick Bonino in the third. Darcy Kuemper would get his twelfth start allowing two or fewer goals, and the team would make it easy for him allowing only 25 shots on goal. The game would start with a stellar first period where the Coyotes outshot the Predators 15-3, and Nashville wouldn’t reach double-digit shots on goal until over halfway through the game.
Although Phil “The Thrill” would get a lot of deserved attention and the first star of the game, the Coyotes also got offense from their second line of Schmaltz, Conor Garland, and Christian Dvorak. Dvorak got his third goal of the season from a Schmaltz, and as mentioned Schmaltz was key to the Chychrun power play goal by dishing up an excellent cross-ice pass. Schmaltz’s goal and assist give him seven points in six games, and it has been an extremely long time since a Coyotes player has been on pace to be a point per game player. While much attention was given to the long term deals that the Coyotes gave out the past year if Schmaltz and Dvorak keep playing the way they have then those contracts are going to look like steals before long.
Unfortunately, not everything went well for the Coyotes. Not a minute into the game, defenseman Jordan Oesterle took a puck to the back of the head and rightfully sat out the rest of the game. Since then we have learned that there is no structural damage, but he is undergoing the concussion protocol. While losing Oesterle so soon after the injury to Niklas Hjalmarsson will be tough, the most important thing is that Oesterle is okay and will hopefully suffer no long term side effects from this.
It’s fair to say that the Ottawa Senators are not good this season, and honestly, most people didn’t expect them to be. If you want to know how bad they are, they recently were shut out by the Minnesota Wild this past week, and they recently had a team meeting where one of their star players called out their coach.
But just because they are bad and have a terrible record doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ottawa is just two days away from taking the Vegas Golden Knights to the shootout and last Saturday they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2. Yes, you read that correctly, the Ottawa Senators beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. And while the Coyotes have been playing well lately, if you give another team an inch you risk them taking a mile.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller’s two primary assists have bumped him up to 5 points in 6 games. He is the only player on the top line to not register a goal yet, but him Kessel and Derek Stepan have looked good and you can expect a lot of offense from those three.
Ottawa: Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Pageau leads the Senators with 5 points and has three points in his last five games. Pageau’s career-high season came in 2015-16 when he was 19-24-43, but he will likely be given a bigger opportunity this year and as Coyotes fans know that can lead to players playing above their level.
Arizona: Jordan Oesterle (doubtful, head), Niklas Hjalmarsson (leg)
Ottawa: Artem Anisimov (questionable, lower body), Rudolfs Balcers (lower body)
Tonight’s game will be an early one at Gila River Arena with puck drop at 4:00 pm Arizona. If you are unable to make it, it will also be on Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports 910 AM, TVAS, SN360, and City.