When the play-in series begins on August 1st, the Arizona Coyotes will be in a position that they couldn’t say for the majority of the regular season: healthy.
Over the past two seasons, the Coyotes have battled a range of ailments that have seriously hampered their on-ice performances, with key players either missing for extended periods or simply unable to play at their best.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, a pillar of consistency along the blueline, was only able to suit up for 27 games after a blocked shot cracked his fibula.
The biggest addition to the team last summer, Phil Kessel, recently opened up about playing almost the entire season with nagging injuries, limiting him to just 14 goals and 38 total points - despite keeping his impressive iron man streak going.
Both goaltenders, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, were sidelined with injuries, forcing the likes of Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov up into the roster during the tough winter stretch.
Even captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson wasn’t quite right throughout the season, recently revealed that he had struggled through pain despite opting to have knee surgery before the start of the 2019/20 season.
All of these contributed, in part, to the Coyotes’ drop through the standings, having topped to Pacific Division prior to Christmas, ultimately needing the 24-team structure to ‘make’ the post-season.
There have been far-reaching ramifications of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, but one of those has been the opportunity for Coyotes players to get the rest they desperately needed to recover.
Now, they will enter the play-in series against the Nashville Predators on August 1st with a fully healthy roster, something they have not had at their disposal for almost the entire season.
When the Coyotes were at their healthiest, they were one of the top teams in the West thanks to a strong defensive output. Losing both starting goaltenders in quick succession seriously hurt the team and the difficult January and early February stretch pushed them almost out of the post-season conversation.
Now, they will be heading into a post-season series for the first time since 2012 and will have every player available for selection and fully rested after such an extended absence.
Players such as Ekman-Larsson, Hjalmarsson, and Kessel can play their game more effectively while having a healthy Kuemper and Raanta between the pipes is still one of the best tandems in the entire league.
Add in the return of Taylor Hall, who was the most consistent player on the team after his arrival and could become a key partner alongside a healthy Kessel, and the Arizona Coyotes could seriously stake a claim on an impressive run.
Overcoming the Predators will be a difficult challenge, but the team is now in the very best position they could be in to compete and it could certainly have a positive effect on results.