The Arizona Coyotes did not have a good start to the 2021-22 season. On Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets absolutely trounced the Desert Dogs 8-2, officially starting the rebuild era of the Coyotes with a loss.
We will see the Coyotes lose a lot more before this season is over, but they probably won’t be losses of that magnitude. The Coyotes experienced so much turnover during the offseason that they are practically a different team. They are going to need some time to develop chemistry and learn their new coach’s system.
Given the Coyotes’ roster implosion, it makes sense that the line that played best together was three players that were on the roster together last season. The Clayton Keller-Nick Schmaltz-Lawson Crouse line couldn’t do much against the Blue Jackets, but they looked the best and will likely serve as the Coyotes’ top line this season.
The Coyotes are full of players looking to revitalize their career or show they still have enough to earn another contract. But it is important to remember that General Manager Bill Armstrong didn’t personally acquire anyone from the Keller, Schmaltz, and Crouse line, and they are also skating for the careers.
On the other side of the ice, we have the Buffalo Sabres, who also seem poised to start a rebuild.
The Sabres didn’t have as big a sell-off as the Coyotes, but they did see a substantial roster shakeup that saw many names departing, the most significant being their leading scorer Sam Reinhart.
One name from the Sabres that is still with the team is former second overall pick Jack Eichel, who is currently missing time with a neck issue. There was some expectation that Eichel would be gone during the offseason, but he is still with the franchise, and after failing a physical, he was stripped of his captaincy.
Like the Blue Jackets, the Sabres are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season. And like the Blue Jackets, they opened their season with an impressive win, a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
A big reason for the Sabres’ success over the Canadiens was a successful power play. Three Sabres’ players had power plays goals on Thursday, Kyle Okposo, Victor Olofsson, and Tage Thompson. Unfortunately, the Coyotes’ penalty kill struggled against the Blue Jackets, and given how little time the team has had to practice, we may see a repeat tonight.
Something new about the Sabres this season is that they have acquired a few old Coyotes players. Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, and Drake Caggiula have all suited up for the Coyotes in the past, and all three will be on the Buffalo roster this season.
And, of course, tonight will serve as a homecoming for Coyotes’ goaltender Carter Hutton, who departed the Sabres after three years to join the Coyotes this offseason.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - Keller had a goal in the Coyotes last game and looked pretty well on his line. With the departure of key pieces of the Coyotes' offense, Keller is going to have more pressure on him to generate offense this season.
Buffalo: Jeff Skinner - Skinner had two assists on Thursday and led all forwards in TOI with 19:38.
Arizona: Alex Galchenyuk (upper body), Kyle Capobianco (lower body)
Buffalo: Henri Jokiharju (lower body), Casey Mittelstadt (upper body), Mattias Samuelsson (undisclosed), Jack Eichel (neck)
Today's game is an early one for people in the Valley and will start at 10 am Arizona time. It will air on Bally Sports AZ, NHLN, SN, and ESPN 620 AM.