What Arizona’s Road Trip Can Tell Us About the Rest of the Season

Nov 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins (90) makes a stick save on the shot from Arizona Coyotes center Nick Bjugstad (17) during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins (90) makes a stick save on the shot from Arizona Coyotes center Nick Bjugstad (17) during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports /

An early season road trip can be a barometer for a team’s season and also set the tone for the next several games. It can be an opportunity to assess how a team manages fatigue, travel, tough matchups, hostile crowds, and the adjustments they make to counter. The Coyotes had that opportunity, going through a tough five-game road trip.

Traveling to St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Columbus, and wrapping up in Winnipeg, the Coyotes faced a group with a combined record of 46-37-9. Arizona came out of the road trip 2-2-1, reflective of the team’s near .500 record (currently 8-9-2), and for the most part, played competitive hockey against primarily playoff-caliber teams. Each matchup was tightly contested into the third period, with only the games against Nashville and Winnipeg getting one-sided in the final minutes. So what can be taken away from this?

The road trip is hopefully an indicator of things to come for the Coyotes. While playing to their current near .500 record may indicate the status quo, it was against teams currently seeded as the first and third seeds in the Central (Dallas, Winnipeg), the first wildcard team (St. Louis), and the first team out on the wildcard (Nashville). Several initial preseason outlooks did not have this team close to competing this season, and while it is extremely early, the current results have been promising.  We can also assess the road trip two different ways and apply it to Arizona’s prospects moving forward for the rest of the year.

First, we can take the results of the road trip and extrapolate them to “sim” the remainder of the season. By identifying similar teams to those played on the road trip we can project the rest of the year. Now this needs a boulder size grain of salt, as the NHL season and a team’s performance are not static. But it does serve as a sort of eye test, one that can give fans a glimpse into the future schedule and possibly get an idea of things to come. This would result in a record of 38-34-10, and 86 points for the Arizona Coyotes. Comparing that to last season, it would be a 16-point improvement, and a ten-win improvement year over year. If you compare the points total to the final standings last season, the Coyotes would also be in the hunt until the end of the year, ultimately falling short of a wildcard spot. That in and of itself would be a very successful year in the desert after the last few disappointing seasons.

As stated before, that “projection” needs to be taken into context and with skepticism. It wouldn’t account for a deadline sell-off or the Coyotes being deadline buyers. It doesn’t account for the natural ebb and flow of a season that encompasses injuries, attrition, hot and cold streaks, and frankly, luck/randomness. While fun to imagine and play “what-ifs”, there are tangible takeaways we can also get from the road trip. There are three positives for the Coyotes to continue to build on and use to propel themselves forward this season, and three concerns that if not addressed, could potentially derail their promising start.

First Takeaway: Grit and continuing to battle seems to be in this team’s DNA

A trait that can be traced back to last season, this team shows grit and continues to battle no matter who they are lined up against. Every single game of the five-game road trip was a battle, and even in the losses the Coyotes fought until the bitter end. They were never truly out of it until the final horn sounded. Grit and the resolve to continue battling will serve this team well as a grueling season wears on. This so often is the difference maker between a win and a loss, an OTW or an OTL, and the more this team embraces it and makes it a cornerstone of the culture the more wins will come their way.

Second Takeaway: An aggressive forecheck and a markedly better power play

What a difference a year can make. This team did not really have an identity in the offensive zone and ranked in the bottom ten on the power play. This year, they have committed to an aggressive forecheck, and it has sparked the offense. They get the puck deep into the zone and crank up the pressure, generating many of their goal-scoring opportunities. They also have completely flipped the script on the power play, now top ten in the league at 26.1%. Special teams can often be the Achilles heel of a successful season and Arizona needs to continue converting and capitalizing on their opportunities.

Third Takeaway: The penalty kill is an asset rather than a liability so far this season

Special teams for Arizona are much improved this year compared to last year. Both the penalty kill and the power play were bottom ten units in the NHL last season. As stated above, the power play is currently a top ten unit and the penalty kill is in the top 15 at 79.4%. Time and again the penalty kill clamped down and left their opponents frustrated and looking for answers.

While the overall takeaway from the road trip is positive, there were some glaring concerns that could potentially derail the season if not addressed:


At the midway point last season, it was clear that this team needed to bring in a veteran presence to help grow the talent in the net. At the time, Karel Vejmelka looked to have all the tools needed to be an everyday goalie in the NHL and Connor Ingram looked to be a streaky spot starter at best. This year, however, the stat lines have flipped in favor of Ingram. Instead of bringing in additional reinforcements, the Coyotes have committed to a rotation of inconsistent goaltending. There is going to be a discussion coming about going to Ingram as the primary goalie, but there is still a definite need in the net as neither seems to be able to be trusted long-term.

Turnovers and defense

A noticeable problem that kept occurring on the road trip was the lack of an ability to clear the defensive zone and turnovers in both zones. The Coyotes were sloppy with the puck at times, and it hurt them severely, leading to points off of turnovers where the goalie was a sitting duck. You could also see the fatigue set in as well which led to prolonged offensive zone time for their opponents and mistakes by the Coyotes. This coincides with their current TA/GA (Takeaway/Giveaway) ratio of .50, which is alarmingly the second worst in the NHL. The coaching staff needs to spend some time ensuring that defensive zone play gets cleaned up and that the team cuts down on turnovers.

Puck possession and face-off woes

This team spends way too much time chasing and on the defensive, and not nearly enough time possessing the puck on the forecheck. While an aggressive forecheck has led to a much better offensive output this season, the team is prone to outbursts of offensive activity and not prolonged possession of the puck. Another major factor in this is the Coyote’s failure on face-offs. Over the five-game road trip, they averaged a win rate of 46.72% and only came in above 50% in two games. Their season average is currently good for 24th in the NHL at 47.4%.

If the Coyotes want to make a serious push for the playoffs, the coaching staff needs to adjust to address these concerns. Some fine-tuning and tweaking, perhaps an addition or two, and this team could very well be a wild card team come the spring.