With just five games remaining in the 2018-19 season, for the Arizona Coyotes, every game left is absolutely a must win.
Colorado Avalanche Remain a Stumbling Block for Arizona Coyotes
As the two teams battle it out in the mile-high city on Friday night, the result will tell tales of woe for one team, and joy for another. The Colorado Avalanche go into the game with 83 points, while the Coyotes trail with 81 points. Needless to say, this game is a four-point affair and both teams will be needing the two points to move forward towards the last available playoff spot.
Colorado and Arizona have played twice this season with each team winning a contest. So, if the Coyotes win and tie the Avalanche with 83 points, each team will have 34 regulation or overtime wins. That is the first tiebreaker. The next one is head-to-head competition and if the Arizona Coyotes win they will vacate the Avalanche from that remaining wild-card slot.
This is the Arizona Coyotes biggest game of the season.
Now, if Colorado wins it may not be over for the Coyotes who still will have games against the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, and Winnipeg Jets. All but the Vegas game is on home ice. The Coyotes have been tough at home lately winning nine of 11. But, if they can’t beat Colorado on the road Friday night, things could get desperate. Making up four points with only four games to accomplish it remains less than ideal.
Arizona Coyotes Have Not Been to the Postseason Since 2012
When the Desert Dogs started falling like wounded warriors as starter after starter succumbed to injury, many ardent fans thought, “here we go again… no whiteout this year.” But, something magical happened. Players who were thought to be difficult if not impossible to replace were replaced by others who performed.
The team called up players from the Tucson Roadrunners, and it may have been their saving grace. Players like Adin Hill and Conor Garland were contributing like veterans… and they needed to do that to help the team survive. Losing over 350 man hours to injury is not the best game plan for any team.
It was scary how many starters went down to knee injuries. Head coach Rick Tocchet couldn’t believe it either, but he forced his players to stick to the game plan. The results are obvious. Nobody expected the Arizona club to do anything but fold with so many key players not able to be in the lineup.
Instead, other players stepped up, and in a big way. Then, slowly but surely injured players like Christian Dvorak, Jason Demers, and Michael Grabner was back. As it stands now the only starter who remains on the injured list is goalie Antti Raanta, and he has started skating with the team and taking shots. He will even travel with the team to Colorado for their Denver showdown but isn’t expected to play yet.
Even Losing Derek Stepan Didn’t Deter Them
Even losing yet another key starter like Derek Stepan didn’t knock down the team whose motto this season has been “scatchin and clawin”. Stepan went down to yet another knee injury and wasn’t expected back for four to six weeks. Instead, he returned after missing just 10 games. He may not be at full speed, but his veteran presence and faceoff ability were certainly missed in his absence.
Rick Tocchet’s Leadership Has Been Instrumental
It may have taken Rick Tocchet a bit of time before he instituted his system for the players to understand and follow, but once they caught on the results have been phenomenal. He knows when to sit a player down and allow them to think about what they’re missing while watching the game from the press box. He did it to Christian Fischer and most recently to Nick Cousins. The result for Cousins was scoring the only goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in a big win Tuesday night.
It’s moves like that which are garnering some Jack Adams’ Award votes for Tocchet.
Cousins is a scrapper, and he obviously got the point when he was benched for the New York Islanders’ game last Sunday afternoon.
He came back with an effort that has not been uncommon for the players. Each night a new player steps up to be the hero. They don’t have a 20-goal scorer on the team. They may be the first team in a long time to get into the playoffs lacking that statistic.
What they do possess is a “never say die attitude” and it’s been instilled in them by their head coach and assistant coaches.
Darcy Kuemper Has Been Magnificent
Many analogies compare a hockey goalie to a pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football. They can take you to the promise land or they can destroy your destiny for success. Darcy Kuemper has been nothing short of amazing in net. He is doing it all every night. Kuemper has been the team’s MVP.
He still has five very important games to add to his resume. If he can lead his team to the playoffs there will be no doubt that he has arrived as an NHL starting goalie. In some respects, he has already accomplished that.
He doesn’t get a ton of offensive support from his team, but he manages to keep his team in it to win those close one-goal games.
If there will be a white-out this postseason, Kuemper will be an integral ingredient in that success.