The Arizona Coyotes are off to a solid start this season, but the offense they’re generating on the penalty kill is just not sustainable.
Even with two straight losses after Thursday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Arizona Coyotes are 7-6-1 on the season. A year after finishing with the lowest point total in the Western Conference, they are already basically 25 percent of the way to last year’s win total (29).
Winning and losing, regardless of the sport, usually comes down to success in certain, critical situations. The power play and penalty kill are those top two situations in the NHL, with the haves and have-nots separated by success cashing in on and negating penalties.
So far this season, Arizona leads the league with a 91.1 percent penalty kill rate and just four power play goals allowed. That’s the best penalty kill rate since the New Jersey Devils finished the 2011-12 season having killed off 89.6 percent of their penalties.
But the Coyotes also scored two short-handed goals against the Flyers, pushing their total to nine goals with the man disadvantage already this season.
The Devils led the league last year with 12 short-handed goals, but they also allowed 47 power play goals. The full season record for short-handed goals is 36, by the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers that featured Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier etc. The Coyotes are of course on pace to surpass that record.
Even with that offensive explosion when they’re short-handed, the Coyotes are lingering around .500 and needed a recent five-game winning streak to get there. Even after allowing five goals to the Flyers in each of their last two games, they are still second in the league in goals allowed (2.43 per game).
But Antti Raanta (lower body) hasn’t played in those two games and he could be out a while longer. His absence takes away a goaltender who’s top-10 in the NHL in goals-against average (2.10; fifth) and save percentage (.929, tied for eighth), in favor of Darcy Kuemper the bulk of the time.
When the Coyotes’ offense outburst with the man disadvantage evens out, as it surely will, having Raanta available between the pipes feels mandatory to any ability to stay around .500. They have a plus-7 goal differential through 14 games, but plus-5 of that has come on the man disadvantage.
The Coyotes are on a better track than they’ve been on in a long time. But a return to the playoffs in a deep Western Conference this year is as unlikely as the team’s ability to keep scoring on the penalty kill at a record-setting clip.