Arizona Coyotes: Special Teams Improvement Could Spark Turnaround

Nov 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes right wing Tobias Rieder (8) carries the puck during the second period against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes right wing Tobias Rieder (8) carries the puck during the second period against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

The Arizona Coyotes are still only two points clear of the bottom of the NHL standings. An improvement on special teams, however, would significantly enhance their chances at a turnaround.

With Max Domi out for at least six weeks, the Arizona Coyotes are going to need to get creative.

That may be harder without their best playmaker, but opportunity knocks for several of the team’s hyped young prospects.

Arizona ranks 25th in the league on the power play and 20th on the penalty kill.

Simply put, those numbers will not suffice. Not if they want to win.

Not if they hope to turn this season into something respectable.

That’s why the kids are the key to righting the ship.

Power Play

The Arizona Coyotes’ power play struggles are a tad perplexing.

On paper, they should have the necessary personnel to produce a potent power play. Certainly so with Domi in the lineup.

Without him, however, they still have plenty of viable pieces. Some are being used, and some are being passed by for players who are underperforming.

When healthy, there shouldn’t be a power play unit that takes the ice that doesn’t include both Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They are not only the Coyotes’ two best players, but also the best offensive weapons on the team.

Radim Vrbata is another who should get healthy power play time, and so far that has happened.

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The problems thus far have been three-fold.

The first is a failure to maintain possession in the offensive zone, and that bleeds over into even strength as well. The second is heavy reliance on perimeter puck movement and shots.

Arizona is often too content to pass it around the outside and settle for a shot from the blue line. They rarely work the puck down low, and rarely make the opposition work because they utilize just three of the five guys on the ice.

Teams know they can crowd the center of the ice and the Yotes will settle.

Utilizing the size of a player like Martin Hanzal or newly promoted Brendan Perlini might go a long way towards getting the team some quality scoring chances in the slot. There’s no rule against Lawson Crouse getting a shot there as well in order to see what he can do.

Allowing these skilled youngsters to take a bigger part in the power play would be a welcome change. They need that experience and frankly the alternative isn’t working very well.

The third issue facing the power play, of course, is a reliance on players who aren’t performing.

Shane Doan should not be seeing power play time based on his performance this season.

He had a great year last year, no doubt, but he was also insanely lucky with an astronomical shooting percentage compared to his career average.

As much as it pains me to say it, it’s time for Doan’s ice time in all situations to continue seeing reductions.

Penalty Kill

Though it is ranked 20th in the league, the Arizona Coyotes’ penalty kill is actually performing better than last season.

Part of that improvement may be predicated on what we discussed earlier; Dave Tippett is actually relying on youth in the penalty killing forward corps, and they have definitely had some strong outings.

It isn’t all peachy, of course.

As is the case at even strength, the penalty kill is often too passive and allows the opposition to cycle the puck and relentlessly pummel Mike Smith and Louis Domingue.

Any penalty kill featuring Alex Goligoski is a bit of an adventure. I’m not sure what Tipp expects of him when putting him on the ice. Both the system that the Yotes employ, as well as Goligoski’s own playing style naturally work against the ways he is being deployed.

He has never been a solid defender.

This year he hasn’t even really been a solid offensive player.

His continued use on the penalty kill is more about a lack of other palatable options, and it’s not helping Goligoski at all to stay fresh and focused on the very thing he was brought here to do.

Part of that issue with Goli and defense is mitigated when Tobias Rieder is on the ice.

As he has shown for a third straight season, PK Tobi Rieder is the best version of Tobi Rieder.

Lawson Crouse is also blossoming into a valuable piece on the penalty kill, which is great news for Tipp and John Chayka. He’s likely to be a part of the team for a good part of it’s future, and having him getting valuable minutes now will pay dividends when the team is ready to turn the corner.

With names like Crouse, Rieder, and Jordan Martinook dominating penalty kill time, it would be nice to see the entire unit shift to a more aggressive style.

Next: Crouse Blossoming Into Valuable Role Player

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the 2016-17, the Arizona Coyotes have the pieces to be effective on special teams.

A little more experience for the youth, and a little less reliance on ill-fitting veterans might go a long way towards squeezing out a few more standings points.