When it comes to early season futility, the 1943-44 New York Rangers have stood alone for more than 70 years. There are several teams who have flirted with the Rangers’ record of 11-straight losses to start the season, the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets among them, but not since the Rangers has a team started the season with a goose egg in the win column and a loss total in the double digits.
Through three weeks of this campaign, however, one can’t help but feel as though the Arizona Coyotes are on their way to giving the Rangers some company.
After nine games, the Coyotes have yet to find their way into the win column, owning an 0-8-1 record that is exactly as bad as it seems. Arizona’s goal differential is the league’s worst, an ugly minus-18 already, and the offense has appeared among the most inept in the league. Meanwhile, the defense has been shredded at times, the goaltending has been unsightly and Arizona has the record to show for it.
It’s weighing on the fans, too. Say what you will about the Coyotes, but those who have remained faithful to the team have done so through near constant talk of relocation, abysmal on-ice performances and — let’s be honest — full-scale tanking that hasn’t resulted in a single first-overall selection. This nine-game season-opening losing streak seems to have broken the spirits of some of Arizona’s more ardent supporters, though. Take a look at the Coyotes’ Reddit and all you’ll see are pictures of actual coyotes. So, yeah, Coyotes fans are having a tough time dealing with this.
It’s hard to blame them, though, because this is the opposite of how things were expected to go. Arizona was among the league’s most active teams in the off-season and GM John Chayka deserved every bit of praise for making moves in an attempt to set his team up to claw its way out of the league’s basement after being dwelling there for much of the past few seasons. And run down the list of the additions the Coyotes made and try to figure out how Arizona, after nine games, has managed to pick up just one measly point. Derek Stepan and Nick Cousins were acquired to help boost the attack. The defense was bolstered with Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers and Adam Clendening. And, with Mike Smith vacating the No. 1 job in goal, Antti Raanta was brought aboard with the feeling he could help drive this team forward.
Simply put, though, anything that can go wrong thus far has. Raanta, who was expected to carry the load all season, was sidelined to start the season, returned a grand total of 90 minutes and has been back on the shelf ever since with a lower-body ailment. And while Raanta’s .911 save percentage and .909 SP at 5-on-5 aren’t exactly sparkling statistics, the situation between the pipes in Arizona has been disastrous in his absence. Per Corsica, Domingue’s .858 SP is the worst all-strengths mark of any netminder to play at least 200 minutes. At 5-on-5, he’s been equally as dreadful, with a .880 SP. Adin Hill, the Coyotes’ third stringer, hasn’t been much better, either. He’s got a .900 SP at 5-on-5 and his .891 SP at all-strengths doesn’t really inspire confidence he can take over the top job while Raanta recovers.
Granted, it doesn’t help much when the defensive additions don’t do all that much to insulate the netminders. Despite adding two legitimate top-four defenders in Hjalmarsson and Demers, the Coyotes are averaging the ninth-most shots against at 5-on-5, surrendering 33.4 per 60 minutes of play. Likewise, Arizona ranks ninth in shot attempts against per 60 minutes with 62. It would be one thing if those were shots and attempts coming from low-danger areas, mind you. That’s not the case, though. Arizona is giving up 12.4 attempts against per 60 minutes from high-danger areas and the Coyotes rank ninth with 31.2 scoring chances against per 60 minutes at five-a-side.
The silver lining in all of this, if that’s what you want call it, is that being ninth-worst is better than being dead-last in the league in many of the same categories. But that’s really not much for the Coyotes to hang their hats on.
What should give Arizona some hope, however, is that there are signs of life even if the offense hasn’t clicked yet. In terms of pure percentages, Arizona is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring chances and high-danger attempts percentages. The Coyotes’ Corsi For percentage, which was league-worst last season, is even right up there among the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. And per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, Arizona has shown some promise.
For instance, the Coyotes rank 16th in shot attempts for, 11th in scoring chances for and 10th in high-danger attempts. In the former two categories, it puts Arizona among the likes of the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and Capitals. The latter sees Arizona operating at the same clip as the Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. The opportunities are coming and, were it not for Arizona’s 6.64 shooting percentage, which is the eighth worst rate in the league, the Coyotes would almost certainly have a win or two under their belt. None of this is to mention that rookie Clayton Keller is already putting together an inspired rookie performance, leading the Coyotes with six goals and 10 points through nine outings, while summer additions Stepan, Cousins and Mario Kempe have each contributed offensively.
The uptick in the underlying numbers bodes well for these Coyotes, though. So, while it may seem as though newly minted bench boss Rick Tocchet is flirting with one of the quicker exits in coaching history, the foundation appears to be in place for Arizona to take a step forward. Raanta's return, or Domingue finding his game, could, too, help the Coyotes finally get their footing. And we can only that happens sooner rather than later, if nothing else than for the sanity of those who have stuck by the Coyotes all these years.
(All advanced statistics via Natural Stat Trick)
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