The Arizona Coyotes left Sunrise, Fla. last night still searching for their first win, and though their 0-5-1 start to the season isn’t a complete surprise, the team’s lack of success hasn’t been due to a lack of effort. Last Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders, for example, was a complete team game in which they likely deserved a better fate. Fast-forward to Monday night’s 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, though, and the Coyotes demonstrated a different kind of resilience.
It’s clear while in the full throes of a rebuild that the 2021-22 season is going to be a bumpy one, and although head coach André Tourigny has stressed on multiple occasions the team doesn’t accept moral victories, there are some takeaways from last night for the team to build on.
Let’s dive in to the good, the bad, and the ugly that we learned after last night’s loss to the Panthers.
They Need to Play More Disciplined, Especially Late in the Period
The Coyotes didn’t even have a chance to savor their lead before Clayton Keller, who opened the game’s scoring, took an ill-advised interference penalty late in the first. Lo and behold, 42-year-old Joe Thornton buried a rebound with just 19 seconds left in the period to tie it up, a deflating turn of events considering Arizona was just seconds away from entering the intermission with a lead over the unbeaten Panthers.
Worse yet, this has become somewhat of a pattern for the team. The Coyotes’ 3-0 loss to the Islanders featured an eerily similar situation, when, trailing 1-0 at the end of the second period, a late cross-checking penalty from Jay Beagle resulted in Brock Nelson’s goal with 11 seconds left in the frame. Just like that, Arizona entered the second intermission trailing by two.
Frankly, it’s those kinds of mental mistakes that the Coyotes simply cannot afford to make, especially considering how dreadful their penalty kill has been this season. Arizona has allowed nine power-play goals on 14 chances, successfully killing just 35.71 percent of their penalties.
If there’s a positive to be taken from this, it’s that the 14 penalties Arizona has taken this season is second-best in the league, but it needs to be that way if their kill is going to be that dreadful. Simply put, the team needs to be more aware of its situational hockey scenarios, and understand those late-period penalties have been momentum crushers all year.
There’s No Quit When They Fall Behind
Though the Coyotes have led multiple times this year (which is more than can be said about the 0-5-1 Chicago Blackhawks), their mettle has truly been tested after falling behind by margins that can, at times, seem insurmountable. Last night’s loss was no different, considering Arizona took a 1-0 lead on a breakaway goal by Keller 17:43 into the game — and it was its very first shot on goal.
The Coyotes didn’t even maintain their lead for two minutes, though, after Thornton notched his power-play goal with 19 seconds left in the first, a fitting end to the period considering the Panthers outshot Arizona 11-1 in the first, and held a 31-8 advantage in shots after two.
That said, the team would be forgiven if it packed it up and started looking ahead to its next game in Tampa after Jonathan Huberdeau made it 4-1 nearly seven minutes into the third period. Instead, Liam O’Brien and Phil Kessel notched back-to-back tallies 34 seconds apart, and some how, some way, the Coyotes had found their way back into the game, trailing by just one goal with over seven minutes left to play.
Yes, Anthony Duclair’s empty-netter iced the game, ensuring Florida’s 6-0-0 start (a franchise best), but if there ever were a moral victory for Arizona, it would be their comeback bid against an unbeaten team — on the road, no less — that fell just short. That’s plenty for the Coyotes to build upon ahead of their matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
Carter Hutton’s Injury Further Muddies The Goalie Waters
Coyotes goalie Carter Hutton was finally off to the type of start in a game that he needed — stopping 10-of-11 Panthers shots in the first period — but did not return from the first intermission after suffering a lower body injury. Backup Karel Vejmelka filled in admirably yet again, as he stopped 26 of the 29 shots he faced in the game, but the 25-year-old is not positioned to be able to carry the team with the lion’s share of work.
So, if Hutton’s injury is an extended one, Tourigny and Co. have some decisions to make on how to move forward.
Both Josef Korenar and Ivan Prosvetov, currently assigned to the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners, have minimal NHL appearances, but have always been likely to receive a call at some point this season. It was a surprise when Vejmelka earned the backup nod to begin with, as he had not played in the NHL, but the Coyotes now have options at the AHL level who do have that experience.
Prosvetov appeared in three games last season with the Coyotes, starting one, and stopped 42 of the 51 shots that he faced. In three games with the Roadrunners this season, he’s posted a 1.34 goals-allowed average (GAA) and .944 save percentage (SV%).
Korenar, meanwhile, played in 10 games with the San Jose Sharks last season, starting seven of them, and went 3-5 with a .899 SV% and 3.17 GAA. So far with Tucson this season, he’s appeared in one game, posting a 3.05 GAA and .880 SV%.
It won’t be clear what the club’s next move is until the extent of Hutton’s injury is known, however, if the decision is made based on recent performance, it’s likely Prosvetov will get the call if needed.
What To Watch For
The Coyotes continue to search for their first win, and in the midst of a six-game roadtrip against the likes of the Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes, among others, it’s an uphill battle. Their murky goalie situation doesn’t help matters, so the team truly needs to focus on a the old cliche – a full 60-minute game with limited penalties, and a focus on getting the puck to the net.
Keep an eye on these aspects in Thursday’s matchup against the defending back-to-back champs, because in the end it may define whether Tourigny finally notches his first win as an NHL head coach.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.