You could argue that few teams need the All-Star break more than the Arizona Coyotes right now. Amidst what has largely been a surprisingly successful 2023-24 season thus far, they are banged up and started to backslide down the standings, further and further out of a Western Conference wild card spot. With losses in each of their past three games and nine of their last 13, the break offers a desperately needed reset.
The other thing that the break does, however, is provide an opportunity to step back and take a broader viewpoint on a first half to be proud of. Arizona's 23-22-3 record isn't spectacular, but it does represent just the second time that the organization has entered All-Star Weekend with more regulation wins than losses in the past eight years. They just need five more wins to match their season total from a year ago.
With that in mind, let's look back at some first half highlights that have helped keep the Coyotes in the playoff chase in the West.
From the goofy name to its small capacity and status as a college rink that happens to house an NHL team, Mullett Arena has been the subject of plenty of jokes over the past year and a half. This season, though, its cozy confines and loud atmosphere seem to be giving the home team a distinct edge.
The Coyotes are currently 15-9 at home, a stark contrast to their 8-13-3 road record. At the moment, they have more home wins than the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers. Even amidst a disappointing 2022-23 campaign, home ice was a relative strength for the club, resulting in a 21-15-5 record compared to a 7-25-9 road mark.
With top teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks still set for visits later this season, that edge at home promises to be tested.
One constant of recent Coyotes teams has been a lack of offensive firepower. Over the previous five seasons prior to this one, they have ranked 30th out of 32 teams in goals per game. While their current No. 23 ranking is nothing to write home about, there have been several hints of what this club's dynamic offensive attack can look like when it's on.
On October 30, Arizona laid eight goals on the Chicago Blackhawks in an 8-1 drubbing, with breakout scorer Michael Carcone recording his first career hat trick. Less than two weeks later, they put seven pucks past Juuse Saros and the Nashville Predators. Throw in a six-goal outburst and additional early season hatties from Nick Bjugstad and Nick Schmaltz, and things are looking more potent in Arizona.
Wins over teams like the Blackhawks, Predators and Minnesota Wild are great, but will only take you so far. To be taken seriously as a playoff threat, wins over top teams are critical. Fortunately, this season has produced a few such wins.
The season began with the Coyotes going into New Jersey and knocking off the Devils, a 52-win, 112-point team from a year ago. A five-game win streak starting in late November counted victories over the Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche. Most recently, they stunned the Boston Bruins on January 9, outlasting them in an overtime shocker.
For all the positives of the first half, the Coyotes remain on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They currently sit five points back on the second wild card spot in the West. Any hopes of postseason participation wrest on a continuation of some of these first half high points - more strong play at home, more offense and certainly more big victories down the stretch.