Expectations were high for the Arizona Coyotes going into this season. After being decimated by injuries to key players last season the Coyotes just barely missed the playoffs. While there were flaws with last season’s team, if they had managed to stay healthy the Coyotes likely would have been in the postseason.
General Manager John Chayka took steps to strengthen the team starting with the offseason acquisition of Phil Kessel for Alex Galchenyuk and P. O. Joseph this past offseason. The expectations shifted with that acquisition, the Arizona Coyotes were expected to make the playoffs this season, maybe as one of the top three of the division but more likely as a wild card team.
Just under halfway through the season the Coyotes have been stellar. With a 21-14-4 record and a +13 goal differential, the Arizona Coyotes are currently on top of the Pacific Division, although the race is still extremely close. The Vegas Golden Knights have the same amount of points as the Coyotes, although Vegas has played one more game and have one less win.
While they were the top team of the Pacific, the team still needed a boost to their 20th ranked offense. They did that with a huge trade, sending picks and prospects to the New Jersey Devils for former MVP and pending unrestricted free agent Taylor Hall.
With the acquisition of Hall, the Coyotes have been able to shift the roster around and it is having positive results. Nick Schmaltz has been reunited with Clayton Keller on a line with Carl Soderberg, and the two have 13 points in the past four games.
With the Coyotes surprise success and newest acquisition, the preseason expectations seem a bit lacking. With a player of Taylor Hall’s caliber and the Coyotes’ play this season, Arizona finishing on top of the Pacific doesn’t seem that unrealistic.
As good as the Coyotes have been, they are set to get even better over the next few weeks. Jason Demers played last night against the Nashville Predators and Niklas Hjalmarsson has been skating again and will hopefully return soon.
That being said, the Coyotes do still have some weaknesses that should be considered when re-evaluating the team. The Coyotes’ success has relied largely on goaltending and the team’s offense is still middle of the pack.
The Coyotes success has come partially from stellar goaltending from Darcy Kuemper, who has an insane .935 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average. Kuemper has been great, but some regression seems likely and if the Coyotes can’t get more offense to compensate they may be in trouble.
Arizona’s reliance on Kuemper is set to be tested in the coming weeks though. With the netminder week-to-week with a lower-body injury, the team is going to be relying on Antti Raanta. Raanta has been great in the past, but it will be tough for anyone to match the season Kuemper had been having.
Arizona has also struggled offensively. They are currently 20th in goals scored with 107, although they have the 13th best power play with a 20.8% success rating. Hall will hopefully help with that, but he is only one player
Going into the Christmas break the Arizona Coyotes are currently at the top of the Pacific Division. While they aren’t a lock for the playoffs but they have all the pieces needed to make it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
What do you think? Where do you expect the Coyotes to finish this season? Is another Division title realistic for the Coyotes this season? Feel free to comment below.