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Coyotes miss playoffs after rash of injuries, sputtering finish to season

Kuemper's performance, talented youth pipeline offer hope for future

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Arizona Coyotes failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

The Coyotes (39-34-8) were eliminated from playoff contention when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in overtime at Pepsi Center on Thursday.

Here is a look at what happened in the 2018-19 season for the Coyotes and why things could be better next season:

 

The Skinny

Potential UFAs: Richard Panik, RW; Mario Kempe, RW; Calvin Pickard, G; Dave Bolland, C

Potential RFAs: Nick Cousins, C; Lawson Crouse, LW; Josh Archibald, RW; Ilya Lyubushkin, D

Potential 2019 NHL Draft picks: 8

 

What went wrong

Out of gas: On March 14, the Coyotes were on a 10-2-0 run, four points ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference and flirting with their first playoff appearance since advancing to the conference final in 2012. Arizona then went 3-4-3 in its next 10 games, scoring two goals or fewer in eight of them. Most damaging was a 3-1 loss on Tuesday to the 30th-place Los Angeles Kings at Gila River Arena, where the Coyotes were 10-1-1 in their previous 12 games.

Injuries: Though the Coyotes gutted their way through numerous injuries to stay in playoff contention, the absence of key players proved too much to overcome. Goalie Antti Raanta hasn't played since Nov. 27 and center Nick Schmaltz last played Dec. 30. Forwards Derek Stepan, Brad Richardson, Alex Galchenyuk and Christian Dvorak and defensemen Jakob Chychrun and Jason Demers each missed at least 10 games. Arizona particularly was snakebitten with the lower-body injury to Schmaltz, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini on Nov. 25. Schmaltz was productive, with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games. The Coyotes will have more time to see him develop after signing Schmaltz to a seven-year contract March 30.

Punchless offense: The Coyotes could not get going offensively, ranking 28th in goals for (207) and tied for 28th in goals per game (2.56). Galchenyuk and Richardson are tied for the Arizona lead with 18 goals each. Center Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes with 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists), a drop-off from the 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) he had last season as a rookie, when he finished third in Calder Trophy voting.

Video: CGY@ARI: Keller wires home one-timer to open scoring

 

Reasons for optimism

Late playoff push: The Coyotes showed why they could be playoff contenders for seasons to come despite coming up short this season. They responded to a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) that started just before the NHL All-Star break by going 13-4-0 from Feb. 9 to March 14, best in the Western Conference during that stretch. The players fought through the adversity and responded to second-year coach Rick Tocchet, who guided them to a 16-point improvement from a last-place finish in the West in 2017-18.

Kuemper goal-den: Once goalie Darcy Kuemper took over the No. 1 role when Raanta's season ended, the former backup showed he's a legitimate NHL starter. Since Jan. 4, Kuemper is 22-9-6 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and five shutouts. His 16 wins since Feb. 9 are second in the NHL (Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning leads with 18), and his .941 save percentage is third among goalies with at least 11 games played in that span.

Homegrown talent: Though the Coyotes traded Strome, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, others are waiting in the pipeline. Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a 19-year-old defenseman chosen No. 23 in the 2017 NHL Draft, had 47 points (nine goals, 38 assists) and a plus-36 rating in 62 games for Charlottetown and Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Barrett Hayton, an 18-year-old forward selected No. 5 in the 2018 NHL Draft, had 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. Nate Schnarr, a 20-year-old center and a third-round pick (No. 75) in 2017, had 102 points (34 goals, 68 assists) for Guelph of the OHL.

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