CRAIG MORGAN – http://arizonasports.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes’ 2-1 win at San Jose on Tuesday improved the team’s record to 6-5-5 since the new year dawned, the NHL’s version of a plus-500 record and the team’s best stretch of the season.
There are two main factors driving that. The blue line is healthy and goalie Antti Raanta is healthy.
With Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jakob Chychrun back in the lineup, the defensive corps has been better in its own end while driving the offense.
Spanning 16 games played in 2018, the Coyotes blue line has produced 11 goals and 35 points: Alex Goligoski (four goals, five assists), Kevin Connauton (four goals, three assists), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (two goals, four assists), Jason Demers (one goal, four assists), Chychrun (five assists), Luke Schenn (two assists) and Hjalmarsson (one assist) have all chipped in.
Connauton’s four goals since Feb. 1 lead all NHL defensemen. Goligoski’s seven points since Feb. 1 are tied for the second most in the league.
In 13 games of 2018, Raanta has allowed 27 goals on 383 shots for a .930 save percentage. Since Jan. 4, the Coyotes’ first game of the new year, that is the fifth-best save percentage in the league (minimum eight games), behind Carter Hutton (.936), Pekka Rinne (.934), Darcy Kuemper (.934) and Jonathan Bernier (.933).
Overall, Raanta’s .919 save percentage is tied for 10th among goalies who have played at least 30 games, a good benchmark with 7.5 weeks left in the season.
Raanta’s contract expires after this season. Coyotes general manager John Chayka said on Jan. 30 that he had not begun talks with Raanta’s agent on a contract extension. When asked again on Wednesday, Chayka said this: “I’m not going to be commenting on timelines for any negotiations. I’ve stated publicly my thoughts on Antti as a goalie many times.”
Here’s what Chayka said about Raanta last month.
“We have no reservations about saying Antti’s a very good goalie and capable of being an impact guy that can win you games. We’re in need of a good goalie and he’s a good goalie. That’s where I’m at.”
DOMI STAYS POSITIVE
Max Domi has been around a lot of NHL locker rooms thanks to his dad, Tie Domi, a former NHL player. Domi learned a lot of lessons from the pros he encountered, including how to deal with slumps.
Those lessons have served him well this season, but when Domi broke a 21-game goal drought against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, he raised his hands and eyes to the rafters as if to thank the hockey gods.
“I was pretty fired up,” he said. “It’s been a while. Everyone always says it’s the ugly, tough ones that get you going.”
Domi isn’t interested in discussing the trade rumors swirling around him, but when talk turned to playing center, and whether he will remain there or move back to wing, here’s what he said:
“I have a whole new respect for centermen. You watch guys like [Sidney] Crosby or [Patrice] Bergeron, those guys can be unbelievable defensively. They never give up anything in their own end and they still find ways to lead the charge and create offense, too.
“When you try and do one, you might lose a little bit of the other one or you might lose both because you’re trying to do too much. It’s a big responsibility. You don’t have to be skating around at a million miles an hour. It’s a lot of thinking, a lot of processing, trying to outsmart the other guys on the ice. It’s a great challenge and I really enjoy it.
“I played one practice at wing since I moved to center and I was like, ‘holy smokes, the game feels way easier now,’” Domi added. “That’s no knock to wingers but it’s totally different than wing where you can conserve your energy a little more and save that for the offensive side of the puck. If I get moved to wing I would enjoy it, but if I stay at center, I’ll enjoy that, too. Whatever the team asks, I’ll do.”