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vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 33-32-10   Coyotes 36-33-7

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: WGN

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Only because the Western Conference refuses to let anyone die (at least outside Southern California), tonight’s tilt still has implications on the final wildcard spot. With their decisive win in Winnipeg last night, the Stars have probably extricated themselves from this Battle Stupid. The Wild still seem to be going the other way, though they’re three points up on the Hawks but having played two games more. The two combatants tonight are officially not dead, so this somehow clears the bar of “BIG GAME.” We know how that’s gone for the Hawks, with Sunday’s hail mary being their only reprieve.

Since you last saw the Coyotes, which was getting speed-bagged by Brendan Perlini, they’ve gone 2-4-1 and have lost those four all in a row leading to his one. Their last out was a cure of insomnia, shutout-loss to the Islanders, who have a habit of doing that. Getting pumped by the Lightning on the road is par for the course, but also eating it to the Panthers and Devils is not. It’s left the Yotes two points behind the Avalanche having played the same number of games. Let’s say their forlorn hopes are fading.

The problems for the Coyotes are hardly inconspicuous. Since putting up a touchdown on the Ducks, in this 0-4-1 stretch they’ve scored six goals. That’s not going to get it done, no matter what kind of holistic/satanic ceremonies Darcy Kuemper may be performing in the crease to put out numbers like this. And the Coyotes don’t score because they simply don’t have enough talent. Yes, Derek Stepan is back, but when you desperately need Derek Stepan to return, that says everything about what you are and where you still need to go.

I suppose the Coyotes can claim to be a little hard done by, as in those five games they’ve been on the positive side of the possession ledger. But they don’t do as much with that as most opponents will, so they’ve lost the chance battle. There’s not enough here to turn possession into threat consistently, and that will be their problem until they produce a star out of the kids they have or they convince one to sign there. Which ought to be a real trick. Worker bees need a queen, after all.

So the Yotes can be GO HARD all they want, and there is a decent amount of speed here, and they can gobble up points in the doldrums of the season when other teams are in the midst of, “I can’t be fucking bothered with this” phase. But when teams are trying, or just ramping up for the playoffs, they’re short. The Hawks will find this out themselves in a week, if not sooner. But it’s enough to put the Hawks off for sure, and the Yotes will definitely be looking for some get-back after getting it up them sideways on Madison St. a couple weeks back.

As for the Hawks, I guess if they’re still counting these as real games they need to run the table this week. That includes a trip to San Jose, a team that has treated them like a marrow bone twice already but is kind of a mess at the moment, can’t get a save anywhere, and is basically locked in where they are and is waiting for the playoffs to start. So maybe you can goof a win there, who knows? But beating the Yotes and Kings is an absolute must, because the last week is murder. But hey, if you’re going to pull a miracle, pull A MIRACLE.

Only changes tonight you’d see is the defensive rotation in some fashion that doesn’t really matter. One would think at home the Coyotes will come out far more aggressive, for one after what went on last time and after losing four in a row on the road. The Coyotes are faster than the Hawks and if they play up to that they can cause all sorts of headaches. If they’re on the heels and give the Hawks’s greater star power time and space to be the Hawks’ greater star power…well, you saw what happened last time. You’ll know how this will go by how out-and-up the Coyotes are playing.

Hey, it’s better to have games with minimal stakes on them than just running out the clock, I guess. Let’s take it a little further.

 

 

Game #76 Preview Suite

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We reveled, perhaps a bit too much in hindsight, in what appeared to be an overmatched Rick Tocchet behind the Coyotes bench last year. He appeared to be an idiot in Tampa when he had to take over for an admittedly giant mess caused by Barry Melrose. And despite what looked like a fair collection of young talent in the desert, the Coyotes finished up the track once again. As the Yotes have been something of a nuisance to everyone–with their constant stability issues and even bigger issues remaining relevant–it was a small relief to at least have something to laugh at.  At least they were noticeable in any way.

So much for that. Tocchet has negotiated a host of injuries–only Keller, OEL, and Hjalmarsson have been marked “present” for every game among the prominent players–and still a raft of youth to have the Coyotes on the brink of their first playoff berth in seven years. Sure, some of that is Darcy Kuemper’s renaissance, but the team was able to stick together through their other goalies’ struggles. Even with Stepan and Schmaltz out now, the Yotes sit one point out of the playoff picture.

The Coyotes don’t do anything particularly well, but moving toward the middle of the pack in various categories is a step up for them. Last year they were mostly getting their brains turned into mush. So it might be that Tocchet actually does know what he’s doing, or he learned. And our laughter, as always, goes away…

We still think they’ll need a real coach to take the next step. Then again, so might the Hawks.

 

Game #69 Preview Suite

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Rose Ford is the editor of FiveForHowling.com. Follow her on Twitter @RoseColoredFact.

The Coyotes have had an even weirder start to the season than the Hawks. Their underlying numbers are great, and yet they haven’t scored an even-strength goal in five games. How do you manage that?

If you mean how does the team manage that, the answer is they are cursed. Last October the Coyotes couldn’t buy a save but were scoring 2.5 goals per game. This season their shot suppression and goaltending are great (90.09 sv%) but they’re only scoring 0.6 goals per game. Any time it starts to look like something good is about to happen for the team some other shoe drops.  As for how the fans manage it some are being patient, it is only five games; others are concerned, teams can still play their way out of the playoffs early; and some are ready to panic and want to fire and trade everyone.

The big move of the summer was trading Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk has yet to suit up due to injury, but can you assess the trade anyway because we like making people do unfair things?

The Galchenyuk trade is largely regarded as a win for Arizona’s GM John Chayka. In the fanbase’s view he traded a winger to get a center that has consistently scored 40 or more points in the last four seasons. Max Domi was very much a fan favorite in Arizona for his outgoing personality and friendliness toward the fans, so many will miss him. Most folks recognize that he wasn’t primarily a scorer and scoring is something the team desperately needs, even more so now. If Galchenyuk can consistently get on the scoreboard the fans will like him just as much. It also helps that they are other players on the team that have similar playmaking abilities as Domi, like Dylan Strome.

Dylan Strome spent a majority of last year in the AHL, where he put up 53 points in 50 games. Should we be expecting big things from him this year?

The fanbase hasn’t always been so patient waiting for Dylan Strome to show that he can be an NHL player, let alone a top six center. This season fans are finally starting to see some payoff for the team’s patience. He scored the Coyotes’ first goal and is utterly dominating the league in faceoffs for a player of his age. Although expectations should be tempered it’s difficult not to hope this is his year to shine.

Does Rick Tocchet have any idea what he’s doing? It’s ok you can tell us…

Rick Tocchet had one hell of a baptism by fire last season when he went from the back-to-back cup champions to a team that had 43% roster turnover, six entry-level contract players, and a whole new coaching staff and system. His style of play is a heck of a lot more exciting and entertaining than Dave Tippett’s. Honestly though, ask again after game 25.

Game #6 Preview Suite

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As the latest team to be run by a analytic wunderkind, every hockey fan who’d like to see the game move forward in any way, there is some investment in the success of the Arizona Coyotes. With some smart summer moves (not necessarily Hjalmarsson), the Yotes are going to be some people’s pick to surprise. They’re not there yet, or at least don’t look it, but they’re finally trending up. Whether they can get anyone to care in the desert is a question that’s gone on far too long and will never die.

Arizona Coyotes

’16-’17 Record: 30-42-10  70 points (6th in Pacific)

Team Stats 5v5: 45.0 CF% (30th)  44.9 SF% (30th)  42.6 SCF% (30th)  7.2 SH% (20th)  .924 SV% (12th)

Special Teams: 16.1 PP% (26th)  77.3 PK% (27th)