Coyotes look to remain hot at home vs. Flyers
The surprising Coyotes take their first five-game winning streak since the 2011-12 season — coincidentally, the last time they made the playoffs — into their interconference game against the Flyers at Gila River Arena.
Arizona (7-5-0) has won six of seven since being shut out three times while starting 1-4. The Coyotes will be trying for their first six-game winning streak since that 2011-12 season, when they had three winning streaks of five games or longer, and looking to close out a 5-0 homestand.
Before that string of home games began, coach Rick Tocchet stressed the importance of establishing a home ice advantage — and, perhaps, doing away with any lingering memories from an 0-10-1 start a season ago.
But even Tocchet probably didn’t envision the Coyotes outscoring their opponents 24-7 during the first four games, or getting at least one short-handed goal in every game. They have six short-handed goals during the homestand, the longest such streak in franchise history, and an NHL-leading seven altogether.
“I like the fact that we’re a hard-working team. For the most part, I’ve got to tell you, we’ve worked really hard,” Tocchet said. “We’ve defended well and we’re getting really good goaltending. Our identity for me is a team that defends well and can transition well.”
The Flyers (6-7-1) can’t say the same thing. Their penalty kill is a problem, allowing at least one power-play goal in seven consecutive games. They have allowed a league-high 16 power-play goals, while Arizona has given up a league-low three power-play goals. The Coyotes have more short-handed goals (7) than they do power-play goals allowed.
Despite their penalty-killing issues, the Flyers opened their four-game western road trip by defeating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 and the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 before losing 4-3 in overtime to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
One concern is starting goaltender Brian Elliott’s status. Backup Cal Pickard played Saturday, and Elliott was expected to play Monday night until leaving practice early Sunday following a collision with Travis Konecny.
Earlier in the trip, backup goalie Michal Neuvirth returned to Philadelphia with a lower-body injury, and he isn’t expected to be available until next weekend at least.
Despite the injuries, the Flyers could return home with five of a possible six points on the trip if they can win Monday. General manager Ron Hextall said the road trip will be viewed by the result of the Arizona game.
Win, and it’s a great trip. Lose, and it’s an OK one.
“I think our commitment to defense, our cleanliness has been better,” Hextall told reporters Sunday. “It really comes down to an attitude. When players are dialed in, players are playing hard, playing the right way, all the analytics, all the numbers, your feel for the game is good. That’s what it’s about.”
One set of numbers jumps out: The Flyers goaltenders are third from the bottom in the league with a 3.86 goals-against average; the Coyotes lead the league with a 2.00 average. Antti Raanta has started all but two Coyotes games, which Darcy Kuemper played, and Raanta (2.10 goals-against average) is expected to start Monday.
Raanta made a career-high 48 saves as the Coyotes withstood 51 shots by Carolina, and squandering a three-goal lead, by defeating the Hurricanes 4-3 Friday on Michael Grabner’s overtime goal.
“Last year around December until now, he (Raanta) has just been terrific,” Tocchet said. “He’s a leader. You could put a ‘C’ on his chest, he’s that type of guy. … He’s done whatever it takes to be that guy and he wants to be that guy. He gives us a chance every night.”
The Coyotes ended their season-opening 11-game losing streak last season by winning at Philadelphia 4-3 on Oct. 30. The Flyers then won in overtime at Arizona 4-3 on Feb. 10.