Coyotes Pass the Gauntlet Test

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 15: Goaltender Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Arizona Coyotes is congratulated by Christian Dvorak #18 after a shutout victory over the St. Louis Blues in NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 15, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Blues 1-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes went into their second gauntlet of the season with the potential to get stuck in the basement of the West division.

A 7 game “series” with the St. Louis Blues thanks solely to the havoc COVID is causing to NHL schedules almost league wide was now on the docket after games with Minnesota and Colorado were postponed. With some rearranging by the league, the Coyotes and Blues were thrust upon each other in a playoff series style run over 14 days. In the end, the Coyotes came out with a terrific 4-2-1 record grabbing 9 of the 14 points available.

The Coyotes have had absolutely no favors in the scheduling department after having 11 of their 15 games played so far against two of the top teams in the division and yet here the Yotes sit in 4th place, 1 point behind the Avalanche.

The stretch of 7 games saw the Coyotes get north of .500 for the first time this season after a tough run against Vegas and the hot goaltending of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks. Going into the series, the Coyotes sported a 3-6-0 record which had them falling into the basement of the division. This gauntlet with St. Louis had all the writings for a possible season killing shot but the Coyotes came out with an arm shot up the standings.

The Blues opened up the 7 game stretch with a 4-3 tough fought win before the Coyotes would take the next 3 in a row including one in a shootout. The Blues would then serve back to back loses with their own OT win to set up the “series deciding game 7” that the Coyotes won 1-0.

Throughout the gauntlet, multiple players stepped up in big ways for the Coyotes. Starting in goal, Darcy Keumper largely shined throughout the series appearing in 5 of the 7 games and turning aside 136 of 146 shots faced. Keumper came away with a .932 save percentage and a 2.01 GAA. Antti Raanta appeared in 2 games going 1-0-1 and while he was beat for 5 goals in his OT loss, it was a culminative rough effort both defensively and with a couple of ones past Raanta that he should have stopped. In his win, Raanta played terrific turning aside 40 shots faced.

Defensively the Coyotes largely played solid in front of the net and tapped into offensive production that we had not seen to date so far this season outside of Jakob Chychrun and Oliver Ekman-Larsson prior to his injury. Jordan Osterle who has been more known for quietly making solid defensive plays jumped into the offensive outburst with 4 assists in the 7 games. Chychrun continued his excellent production leading the group with a goal and 3 assists to increase his stats to 11 points through 15 games. OEL returned to the lineup after missing 10 games since his injury against San Jose with 3 games to go against St. Louis. He would add an assist to bring himself up to 4 points through 5 games played. In total the defense produced 11 points throughout the series.

Up front, Conor Garland continues to be the star for the Coyotes. Garland added 7 points (3G,4A) to his season totals and continues his relentless attacking style on the ice. There is barely a shift that goes by with Garland not being an impact on the ice in some form. Christian Dvorak continues to excel and broke out with 7 points himself in the series. He leads the team in goals with 7 now and has 13 points, 1 point back of Garland for team lead. Clayton Keller who had fallen quiet netted himself 8 points (3G,5A) while Nick Schamltz added 6 (3G,3A) to his season stats. Overall the “Short Leash Line” as dubbed by Head Coach Rick Tocchet was largely terrific throughout the series putting home 21 points throughout the 7 games. On the depth front, the acquisitions of Drake Caggiula and Tyler Pitlick continue to pay off as both found the score sheet and provided a spark for the team. While not overly threatening on offense, the depth additions have created havoc on the ice with forechecking play and solid play in their own end to help out defensively.

One pause of concern is the cooling of Phil Kessel. In the series he netted 2 assists to bring his point total to 8 however he’s fallen off in production since the opening weekend. While still noticeable in many areas on the ice, the Coyotes do need him putting up points. The same can be said for Keller who they need to play as he did the majority of these past 7 games and break out of the inconsistencies. This series was a positive sign that needs to continue. Derick Brassard and Lawson Crouse continue to be snake bitten on the offensive side of the puck while Barrett Hayton while also noticeable on the ice snapped a cold spell of 9 games without a point adding 2 (1G,1A) in the last three games to give him 3 points on the season so far.

The Coyotes extended homestand continues with two big matchups against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are riding two big wins to snap their losing funk over Minnesota and San Jose so expect the rivalry to be kicked up a notch. After L.A. The Anaheim Ducks come in to town followed by the Colorado Avalanche to wrap up February.

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