The Arizona Coyotes needed a response game last night. Getting outplayed by the San Jose Sharks on Monday kept them from regaining their playoff spot, and they needed to keep pace with the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot.
Arizona isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. But if last night’s game was their response, then elimination is only a matter of time.
Monday’s game started with the Coyotes giving up four unanswered goals, including an opening goal 17 seconds into the game. Last night’s game was an improvement in that it took 1:12 for Evander Kane to open the scoring for the Sharks, and the Coyotes only let them get to 3-0 before they started their comeback.
It was a terrible opening to the Desert Dogs. And as we have seen time and again this season, giving up an early goal shook their confidence. The next shift after a goal is critical, but the Coyotes didn’t have a response.
Midway through the first period, the Coyotes had their first good push of the game, but that didn’t last long. Rudolfs Balcers got around Niklas Hjalmarsson and took the puck to the net. Balcers stretched out Darcy Kuemper and tapped the puck past him, and suddenly it was a 2-0 game.
At that point, the Coyotes started having trouble getting the puck past center ice. The Sharks had completely taken over, and the Coyotes had nothing.
The Sharks knew that the Coyotes were struggling, and they kept up the pressure. And when you keep up the pressure, you force the other team to make dumb mistakes.
Somehow, Noah Gregor ended up behind Alex Goligoski and Jakob Chychrun, and he took the puck below the goal line. He passed the puck up to Alexander True, who didn’t score, but he drew Kuemper out of the net. That left Kevin Labanc standing in front of a wide-open net, and he was able to easily direct the puck in and give the Sharks a 3-0 lead.
It was a surprise seeing that Kuemper get the start tonight, especially after Adin Hill played so well in relief on Monday. Kuemper didn’t look terrible in net, but he was fighting the puck, and with the lack of support in front of him, it was a rough first period.
Things did start to improve as the period ticked away. The Coyotes had finally seen enough, and they were ready to start their failed comeback attempt.
Arizona started the comeback attempt in a novel way, scoring on a delayed penalty with Kuemper on the bench. The Coyotes did a great job maintaining possession in the Scottsdale Sharks’ zone and keeping the play alive.
Phil Kessel posted himself in front of the net, a place we have seen him much more this season and find success. Nick Schmaltz had the puck at the top of the faceoff circle and shot it towards the net, only to be redirected off Kessel’s stick into the back of the net.
It’s rare to seen goals scored during a delayed penalty, especially for the Coyotes. And it looked like it would be the start of a comeback, with Arizona picking up the pressure afterward and forcing San Jose to take a penalty.
Arizona had a chance to cut the Sharks’ lead to one on that power play, but it didn’t happen. It looked good to start, with Nick Schmaltz and Jakob Chychrun getting close, but the first period expired before they could convert. The Coyotes would start the second with a few seconds of carryover power play time, but they had lost the momentum by then.
But not long after it expired, the Coyotes would get an early second-period goal. Niklas Hjalmarsson was down low, and he fired the puck at Josef Korenar. Korenar made the original save, but Hjalmarsson picked up his own rebound and passed the puck towards Johan Larsson, who was all alone in front of the net behind Tomáš Hertl.
The puck seemed to hit Hertl, but he wasn’t able to gain possession. Larsson swatted the puck towards the net, past Korenar, and suddenly it was a 3-2 game.
The Coyotes had 35:20 seconds left to score another goal to tie it up. They had another power play opportunity midway through the second, and as we have seen so many times this season, it looked good, but they had no finish.
With two periods down and one to go, we should have seen the Coyotes come out swinging in the third period. They even got an early power play when Erik Karlsson was called for tripping Derick Brassard. But the Coyotes looked really flat.
Midway through the period, the Coyotes took two really bad penalties back to back. Oliver Ekman-Larsson got beat and hooked Patrick Marleau, and while killing that penalty, Jason Demers cross-checked Joachim Blinchfeld. The Sharks had a few seconds of 5-on-3 hockey before almost a minute and a half 5-on-4.
Arizona killed the Ekman-Larsson penalty, but more importantly, they recorded their first shot on goal of the period while killing the Demers penalty. The Coyotes went into the third period down 3-2, and they didn’t record their first shot on goal until they were short-handed, and there was only 8:03 left in regulation.
It would be easy to blame Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the loss, especially since he got beat again as the game was expiring and took another penalty. He didn’t do the team any favors, but it took almost 12 minutes for the Coyotes to even get a shot on goal in what should have been the most important period of the season.
The final nail came with 37 seconds left when Hertl scored into the empty net. But by then, it was clear that the Coyotes weren’t coming back. When the Coyotes desperately needed to find another gear, they stalled out.
You can see a lot of the problems the team had all season in this one game. They had a slow start, they took dumb penalties, they couldn’t score on the power play, and they couldn’t get the much-needed third goal. These were the problems at the start of the season, and 50 games later, they are still the problems.
- Former ASU Sun Devil Brinson Pasichnuk made his NHL debut with the Sharks last night. He is the second player from Arizona State University to make it to the NHL, which is great for an NCAA program that has only existed since 2015.
- After giving up three to start the game it looked like Kuemper would get replaced during the first intermission. He didn't, and he was great to finish the game. It's impossible to say if things would have gone differently if Adin Hill got the start, but we often see teams play differently in front of their backup.
- I go easier on Oliver Ekman-Larsson than most people, but he had a terrible game, especially in the third period. I don't blame him for the loss, but he hampered the small chance the Coyotes had at bouncing back.
- I don't say this often, but I agree 100% with Rick Tocchet.
Rick Tocchet said it came down to another poor start. "It's my fault, we're not ready to play. It ultimately comes to my fault that we're not ready to go. It's mind-boggling that we can't make reads at the start of the game."— José M. Romero (@RomeroJoseM) April 29, 2021
The Coyotes will return home to play the Vegas Golden Knights this Friday.