The Arizona Coyotes will take their wins where they can get them. But spotting their opponent three goals does not a winning strategy make, and the Colorado Avalanche represents a far superior challenge on paper than the lowly Ducks.
It’s the first matchup of the season for the team that knocked the Coyotes out of last season’s playoff bubble. That particular series saw the Coyotes look hapless, outscored 22-to-8 across five games. Not good.
The Avs still are a team that can score early, often, and without remorse for the opponent. The Avs and the Oilers are the only teams to reach eight goals in a game this season, and Colorado did it against an opponent the Coyotes appeared even with the St. Louis Blues.
But the Avs have looked mortal in recent weeks. Since returning from a 12-day COVID quarantine, they are 2-3-0, scoring 1.60 goals per game. This is after going 7-3-1 and scoring 3.45 goals per game the prior 11. Their most recent loss was a 6-2 rout against Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild. You can bet they come to Arizona looking to reverse their recent trends.
Offensive funk aside, Colorado has been solid in their own end this year, with the fourth-lowest goals-against average in the league (2.38). Phillip Grubauer (9-5-0, 2.01 goals against, .923 save percentage) has been their workhorse, playing in all but two of the Avs games this year. The strength of this team also does come from its young, talented, and deep blueline. It’s hard to find a weak link there, lead by the sensational Cale Makar.
They’ve carried that defensive play over to the penalty kill, with a league-leading 88.7% mark. The Coyotes aren’t far behind at 83.1% (9th). But it’s a similar small edge on the man advantage. Colorado is 12th in the league at 23.1%, compared to Arizona’s 17th best mark at 20.3%.
We can quibble about how the Coyotes did it, but Arizona still managed to win both of the games against the Ducks. That counts for something. And they’re receiving contributions from across the lineup, with Phil Kessel and Oliver Ekman-Larsson both scoring two points in the last game and Christian Dvorak scoring two the night before.
THIS IS UNREAL!!!!!— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) February 25, 2021
The @ArizonaCoyotes are comeback kids! pic.twitter.com/LrqqRZewGE
If ever there were a time to run into the Avs team, it would look something like this. A Coyotes team coming off two adrenaline-filled wins, against an Avs team with some struggles.
Players to Watch
Nick Schmaltz - I hinted at it above, but here’s a list of Coyotes contributors who notched at least two points in the two games against Anaheim: Conor Garland, Phil Kessel, Jakob Chychrun, Clayton Keller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It’s no coincidence that those are the names you’d want to contribute on any given night. It’s most likely just a quirk in how the points stacked out, but Schmaltz’s absence sticks out here. The Short Leash Line has not tapered off its impact whatsoever, but I’d love to see Schmaltz turn that into production.
Nathan MacKinnon - Good hockey man does the hockey well.
Nathan MacKinnon outdoor goal is beautiful pic.twitter.com/LhWYX2ucNR— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) February 21, 2021
Arizona - We may see a healthy dose of Adin Hill in this series. Darcy Kuemper is listed as day-to-day after leaving Wednesday’s game. Coach Tocchet said he was “fine” in post-game media, but we’ll see. Antti Raanta also remains day-to-day, but has skated in recent practices.
Colorado - Defenseman Dennis Gilbert remains on injured reserve after facial surgery. Winger Brandon Saad missed Wednesday’s game to welcome the birth of his new child, but remains listed as day-to-day on the injury report.
Puck drops at Gila River Arena at 7 p.m. You can watch Fox Sports Arizona Plus or ESPN+. Radio can be heard on Fox Sports 910 AM.