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Looking at the Coyotes’ struggling penalty kill

The Arizona Coyotes are definitely better this season, but the penalty kill has struggled after being excellent last year.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Arizona Coyotes were decimated by injuries, which likely had a major impact on the team’s ability to generate offense. But even with injuries to key players, the Coyotes were able to stay competitive, largely thanks to an extremely potent penalty kill.

The Coyotes’ penalty kill last season was in a three-way tie for the highest percentage in the league, preventing goals 85.0% of the time. They also finished with the second-most shorthanded goals scored (16). Twelve of the Coyotes’ sixteen shorthanded came from three players, Michael Grabner (6), Derek Stepan (3), and Brad Richardson (3).

This season the Coyotes’ penalty kill is much less impressive. They are currently tied for 19th with an 80.3 success rating and have scored only once shorthanded, scored by Michael Grabner of course.

We shouldn’t overlook the impact of the Coyotes missing defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson is one of the Coyotes’ top penalty killers and has been out with a broken leg since blocking a shot in a game on Saturday, October 12th.

It should be noted that the Coyotes have been an extremely disciplined team in their last two seasons. Last season the Coyotes were 7th in times shorthanded at 226 times, while this season they are 8th having been shorthanded 71 times.

The Coyotes’ struggling penalty kill luckily hasn’t impacted their defense. They have allowed the fourth-fewest goals against in the league and have been getting solid goaltending from Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.

Many people would look at the Coyotes’ struggling penalty kill and point to the team’s decision not to bring back defensive coach Scott Allen. Allen was thought to be key to giving the Coyotes an elite defense and penalty kill.

The Coyotes aren’t the only team that seems to be regressing when it comes to shorthanded goals. The Calgary Flames lead the league in shorthanded goals scored last season and they have yet to score shorthanded this season.

Arizona also isn’t the only team to have a worse penalty kill this season. Of the top five teams last season, Tampa Bay (85.0%, 1st), Columbus (85.0%, 3rd), Arizona, New Jersey (84.3%, 4th), and Dallas (82.6%, 5th), only the Dallas Stars aren’t in the bottom half of the league this season.

So while it may be tempting to blame the Coyotes’ recent struggles on the lack of Scott Allen there seems to be something else happening. Coaches around the league would likely adjust their power play around the best penalty kills and looked for ways to specifically counter them. If the Coyotes want to rediscover their success they are going to need to adjust their strategy and be less predictable.