After two difficult nights in Nevada, the Arizona Coyotes are probably happy to be back home.
Rick Tocchet’s team is fresh off two consecutive losses to the Vegas Golden Knights, rivals of theirs from both the Pacific and Honda West Divisions, with the two teams most recently facing off on Wednesday evening.
The Knights scored early and often in that game en route to a relatively straightforward 5-2 victory. Arizona controlled play reasonably effectively at even strength, outperforming Vegas in the 5v5 expected goals department in all three periods.
Unfortunately, the Coyotes sabotaged any chance they might have had to gain momentum by taking seven penalties. They found inventive new ways to not score goals and failed to convert on any of their four power-play opportunities.
With the loss, the Coyotes’ record fell to 1-2-1 on the season, good for sixth in the West. Vegas remains in the penthouse, undefeated at 4-0-0.
Now, it’s time for another two-game set between Arizona and Vegas—this time, with the Coyotes playing host. Back at the Gila River Arena, Clayton Keller’s team will be looking to flip the script against, by this point, a very familiar opponent.
After a disastrously slow start to the 2019–20 season, Phil Kessel has shown flashes of his past selves from Boston, Toronto, and Pittsburgh to begin this shortened campaign.
Kessel leads the Coyotes with four goals, the latest of which came on Wednesday in the form of a crafty redirection to a Jakob Chychrun shot. He likely won’t continue scoring on a third of his shots but his leading the charge in Arizona has been a nice change of pace.
Nick Schmaltz scored the Coyotes’ other goal on Wednesday. He put his elite shot on display after receiving a pass to the slot by Drake Caggiula from behind the Knights’ goal line. Schmaltz cut the Knights’ lead to 2-1 with a bullet of a one-timer; Arizona failed to score again until Vegas had added three more goals to its total.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is coming off a rough outing. He allowed all five of the Knights’ goals on just 29 shots against—good for a dismal .828 save percentage—and, troublingly, he probably could have had both of Vegas’ first two tallies.
To this point, Antti Raanta has Arizona’s only win of the 2020-21 season and has made just one appearance in the Coyotes’ crease. He will likely get the start tonight.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Derick Brassard. The 33-year-old center has been one of the Coyotes’ most dangerous players through four games but is still looking for his first goal in the desert to go along with his three assists. His 67.53% on-ice expected goals rate at even strength leads Coyotes regulars but he’s only fired two shots on goal thus far.
Vegas: Mark Stone. Remember Michael Stone, the big right-handed defender who played in Arizona (often as Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s partner) for six seasons? His brother, Mark, is the Knights’ captain and one of the best two-way players in the sport. He currently leads the entire league with seven points in four games.
Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (lower body)
Vegas: Jiri Patera (undisclosed)
Tonight’s battle at the Gila River Arena will air on Fox Sports Arizona Plus and AT&T Sportsnet—Rocky Mountain. Fox Sports 910 AM will carry the radio feed.