Coyotes, Hurricanes both off to strong starts
GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the calendar turned from October to November a year ago, the Arizona Coyotes didn’t have to look at a statistics sheet or analyze their upcoming schedule to know they were already out of playoff contention.
Their 1-10-1 record told them that.
The numbers — and their record — tell an entirely different story this season. While their 6-5-0 record remains modest, the Arizona Coyotes are beginning to take on the look of a team that could reach the Western Conference playoffs for the first time since 2012.
That’s one reason why the Carolina Hurricanes, just like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators before them, hope they’re not catching them at the wrong time.
The Coyotes will try to win their fifth in a row when they play the Hurricanes at Gila River Arena on Friday night. It might seem like only a moderately long streak, but the Coyotes haven’t won that many in a row in five years, or since Oct. 26-Nov. 5, 2013. They haven’t win five straight in regulation since the final five games of that 2011-12 playoff season.
“Hopefully it can keep going — we’ve got a good feeling in the room and want to build from that,” team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s not fun to be out of the playoffs like we were last year in October. It means a lot to us to get a good start and feel like we have a chance to beat every team in the league. We’re playing good and building our game.”
That game of theirs looks nothing like it did a season ago, when their goaltending was in disarray, they weren’t getting scoring out of anyone except forward Clayton Keller and their defensive system was a mess.
Now, they’re beginning to create a stir around the league not just because they’re winning, but how they’re winning. Their 27 goals over their last six games (5-1-0) are the most in the league, and they have a 20-4 edge during their four-game winning streak. Their 1.91 goals-against average is the NHL’s best, and they lead the league with six short-handed goals — five in their last three games.
In their last two games, they opened up 3-0 first-period leads against both the Lightning (7-1 win) and the Senators (5-1 win). It’s a major turnaround from the start of the season, when the Coyotes were shut out three times while losing four of five. Keller leads them with five goals and three assists.
“I didn’t feel panic in the guys (then),” coach Rick Tocchet said. “The one thing we were hanging our hats on was we weren’t giving teams much and the goalies (Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper) were playing great for us. I thought the defensemen were playing good, we just weren’t scoring. But guys were sticking with it, playing hard and (we thought) the goals will come.”
The Hurricanes (6-5-1) wish they’d start coming for them. They’ve been held to two goals or fewer five times while losing five of seven, including home-ice losses of 3-2 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and 2-1 to the New York Islanders on Sunday.
The Hurricanes are beginning a four-game road trip that opens up with back-to-back games against the Coyotes on Thursday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday.
“We need to come up with some wins on this road trip, we know that,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We’re playing pretty good hockey, and if we get a few bounces here or there we have a different outlook. … We want to be in better shape (after the road trip) that we are now.”
Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho has a team-high 17 points on four goals and 13 assists, and he joined Wayne Gretzky and Ken Linseman as the only players in NHL history to get at least one assist in each of the first 12 games of a season. No player has a 13-game assist streak to start a season.
“He (Aho) is our special player, there’s no secret now, but he needs to be that every night,” Brind’Amour said.