NHL: AZ Coyotes Preview
For the last two seasons, the recently renamed Arizona Coyotes have seen no post-season play. Hopefully that will change this season, but there are a few issues that they must address in order to make a playoff run for 2014-15.
First, their offense, which last season ranked 20th in the league overall in goals per game, has to improve. They had just three 20-goal scorers last season and lost Radim Vrbata to free agency. Mike Ribeiro, who led all Coyotes centers with 47 points, also left in free agency. Captain Shane Doan fell below 50 points for the first time since the 2001-02 season, but much of that can be attributed to the time he missed with Rocky Mountain Fever. We all expect Doan to get back to a 20-plus goal, 50-plus point season for 2014-15. Keith Yandle, who led the Coyotes in scoring last season with 53 points, will need to match that or be even better. Another player to look at for a big season is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He was fifth in goals amongst “blue liners” last year with 15 and his 44 points were good for 14th in the league among defensemen. Both were career-highs for Ekman-Larsson and he has improved every season. So, here’s hoping him improves even more during the 2014-15 season.
The Coyotes believe they filled a need for scoring by trading for Sam Gagner, a very skilled forward. The key for Gagner will be to stay healthy, as he has battled through injuries in the past. Also Coyote fans are hoping that a change of scenery for Gagner will see him get to his first ever 50+ point season and his addition to the Coyotes should have an immediate impact for this team.
Another area of improvement for this team will be holding their lead. They ranked 28th in the NHL last year in winning percentage when leading after two periods. They also struggled to win close games, finishing second in the league with 15 overtime and/or shootout losses, and lost seven of their final eight games, which ultimately cost them a playoff spot.
The final, and most important thing to look at, will be the success of Goalie Mike Smith. It is amazing he can look so good, and yet find ways to look equally bad at times. With his strong goaltending he could help carry this team through the rough patches when they are not scoring. In previous years the goaltending for the Coyotes has been very important when this team was unable to score many goals, so it will be up to Smith to keep this team in games. Hopefully Smith’s knee has fully healed and he gets back his form of the 2011-12 season, when he carried them to the Western Conference Finals.
The Pacific Division is arguably the toughest division in the NHL. Three teams from the conference made the playoffs last year, all with at least 100 points, with the Coyotes finishing just two points out of a playoff spot despite several players underachieving. It was a remarkable accomplishment considering the team’s budget and lack of superstar talent. They certainly won’t win their division this year, but they do have the potential to be in the wild card conversation for the 2014-15 season.
Where do you think the Coyotes will finish this season and I hope to see you at Gila River Arena!
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