The Coyotes know what (and who) worked during the first half of the season and what (and who) didn’t. It’s time to tweak the system, and perhaps the roster, to prepare for the playoff run.
Like the remainder of the NHL teams, the Coyotes are enjoying some much-needed rest and will benefit from the layoff. As they approach the second half of the season, the ‘Yotes will also be preparing for the challenges to come, as they are closer than ever to accomplishing their primary goal – making the playoffs. It won’t be easy, however, especially if they don’t address their weaknesses.
It was obvious during the first half of the season that goalkeeping was a Coyotes’ strength. When Darcy Kuemper was injured, Antti Raanta successfully carried the mantle for a while, but he was injured too. Adin Hill proved to be an admirable replacement for the other two net minders, but it is evident that they need a healthy Kuemper to reach the promised land.
Regardless of who’s in goal, the defense needs to improve so that the “defense first” mantra is still a viable one. The team simply cannot successfully accomplish rushes out of the “D” zone and into the “O” zone as 5-man units if puck management issues aren’t resolved. Bad passes and/or stolen pucks in the back third will kill the Coyotes and negate northbound rushes. The Coyotes’ don’t play “heavy” defense and often succumb to pressure by big, fast attackers that in fact use their size to their advantage in the Coyotes’ “D” zone. Ilya Lyubuskin is perhaps the most physical of the blue liners, but he has had a tendency to commit too many penalties and turn the puck over in the “D” zone.
The rest of the “D” men are relative light weights size-wise, which makes sense since the Coyotes prefer quick, offensively-aggressive players to get the puck out of the zone quickly and support the attackers. In reality, the system has broken down, the team’s gotten tired and has sustained some brutal hits from the opposition, and the under-sized blue-liners have gotten pinned in their own end, sometimes due to their own inability to clear the puck.
From an offensive standpoint, the Coyotes have reason to be positive. Taylor Hall should now be the centerpiece of the offense and the power play. His energy and skill are already impressive and he hasn’t receded into the woodwork like some of the other Coyotes’ forwards. It will take Hall and his teammates to work together to put enough goals on the board to beat some of their biggest rivals.
It’s clear that if the desert dogs continue to play the way they have during the past few weeks, their relevance will have a short shelf life. Nevertheless, they are in a great position to rectify things and start anew with a clear mindset and focus on making the playoffs. Let’s go Coyotes!