The Arizona Coyotes have a mere twenty-six games remaining on their regular season schedule, but it won’t take nearly that many to decide whether or not they’re a playoff caliber team.
It seems like twenty-six games is plenty of time for the Coyotes to straighten themselves out in time for a legitimate playoff run. After all, they’re still in the thick of things as they prepare for a matinee game against the very tough Boston Bruins on Saturday, right? The problem is that there’s so much to accomplish that there may not be enough time to get it all done.
We don’t know how much longer Darcy Kuemper will be out, or how sharp he’ll be when he returns. Assuming that he comes back soon and plays well, it has no bearing on whether or not the defense can tighten up its play. It really doesn’t impact whether the players that have been “coasting” can figure out how to make measurable contributions to the cause either, and it certainly won’t affect how the power play unit performs.
The return of Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson will affect the performance of both the offense and defense though, and most likely in a positive sense.
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What weighs most heavily as a potential negative factor is the remaining schedule, specifically the teams that the Coyotes play in their final 26 games.
The Boston Bruins are up first, and as of February 7 they are in first place in the Atlantic Division with 78 points. Two days later the Coyotes play the Montreal Canadiens, who are in fifth with 59 points, and the day after the ‘Yotes play the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are in 4th place in the division with 63. In their final game of the road trip the Coyotes visit Ottawa, where the Senators are mired in 7th place with 47 points.
When the Coyotes return home, however, things don’t get any easier, as they play the Metropolitan Division’s first place Washington Capitals (77 points) on Saturday followed by the third place New York Islanders (68 points) on Monday afternoon. Sandwiched between the Islanders’ game and a meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning (73 points ans in in the Atlantic Division) on Saturday February 22, the ‘Yotes play in Dallas (third in the Central Division with 65 points) and then St. Louis (first in the Central Division with 72 points). The Florida Panthers, third in the Atlantic Division with 64 points, come to GRA on February 25.
You’ll notice that the games mentioned above don’t include a single tilt against a Pacific Division rival. Nope, those games are featured in March, along with a handful of critical games against Central Division opponents.
It is obvious that regardless of what the Coyotes can do internally to repair their on-ice problems, their significant external challenge is their schedule. Top-tier teams will be the norm for a while, and the ‘Yotes will most likely need to play almost flawlessly to come away with two points in the aforementioned games. One at a time boys! Let’s go Coyotes!