Charles Woodall-Pike – thehockeywriters.com
One year ago, the mere thought of the Arizona Coyotes being in a playoff race was a wild dream. The rebuild for the future was all that fans had to look forward to last January. This season was predicted to be another year that Arizona competed for draft position and not a playoff berth.
However, the Coyotes have stunned everyone by being in second place in the Pacific Division. A large part of that success has been their dominance against their divisional rivals. With a pair of home games coming up against the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, here is a look into Arizona’s success in the Pacific.
This season’s tilts against the Pacific Division have been the best indicators of how much the Coyotes have improved. Arizona is 10-1-2 so far against the Pacific this season, compared to the 12-17-0 mark they posted last year. The Coyotes have at least one victory against every division rival except for San Jose, whom Arizona will not play until Thursday. In the two seasons since realignment, a Pacific rival has swept the Coyotes in a season series (Calgary last season and Anaheim in 2013-14).
Arizona’s resiliency this season has been evident in a few recent divisional matchups. Max Domi’s hat trick helped the Coyotes rally from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits before Oliver Ekman-Larsson blasted home the game-winning goal in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers on January 12. Arizona also salvaged a point on December 26 against the Kings as the Coyotes notched a pair of late power-play goals to erase a 3-1 hole and force overtime. Even in their lone regulation loss against the Pacific, a 4-3 defeat at home versus the Vancouver Canucks on October 30, Arizona battled back from 3-0 and 4-2 down to make it a close game. If this were last season, the Coyotes probably do not find a way to get points in those games, or even climb back to at least make things interesting in the final minutes.
So far, Domi and Ekman-Larsson have been the ones doing the most damage against the rest of the Pacific. Domi has recorded 17 of his 31 points this season in divisional games (nine goals and eight assists), while Ekman-Larsson has notched 13 of his 33 points against the Pacific (seven goals and six assists), including three of his six game-winning goals. Three other Arizona players have 10 points versus the Pacific this year: Anthony Duclair (six goals and four assists), Martin Hanzal (four goals and six assists) and Mikkel Boedker (one goal and nine assists).
The Coyotes have run into an offensive slump in their past two games, getting shut out by Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and managing only one goal in a loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. Arizona will look to turn that around against the Sharks and Kings as the Coyotes have outscored Pacific rivals 43-27 in 13 contests.