GLENDALE, Ariz. — Suddenly, the Arizona Coyotes are taking on an entirely new look.
They are riding a four-game winning streak — their first in more than two years. And now, going into their Thursday night home game against the Calgary Flames, they’ve got a brand-new goaltender in Darcy Kuemper, who was acquired Wednesday from the Los Angeles Kings.
The Coyotes still possess the NHL’s worst record at 17-32-10, but the final two months of the NHL season aren’t feeling at all like their dismal first four months.
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And that back-to-back road trip to Las Vegas and Arizona is feeling a lot tougher for the Flames, who are scratching for points as they try to play their way into the postseason. They lost their third in a row Wednesday night, allowing the final four goals in a 7-3 loss to the Golden Knights. The Flames remain two points — and two teams — out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot.
The Coyotes held Chicago, San Jose, Montreal and Edmonton to four goals in four games after leading the league in goals allowed for part of the season.
“As much as I want to push the pace, you have to be a good defensive team and (play) an aggressive style down low,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “We’re doing that. We’re doubling up. We’re jumping on pucks. There’s no delaying and guys know where they’re supposed to go. I’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit.”
The Coyotes look even better defensively now that they’ve acquired Kuemper, who is expected to sign a two-year contract extension as part of the trade. Kuemper is 10-1-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, and gives the Coyotes a strong backup behind Antti Raanta, who is in a contract year.
Picking up Kuemper for goaltender Scott Wedgewood and forward Tobias Rieder also gives the Coyotes some protection if they don’t re-sign Raanta, who is reigning NHL’s No. 2 Star of the Week.
“Darcy is a big, talented goaltender who is having an excellent year,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “You need great goaltending in this league in order to be successful and, with Antti and Darcy, we are confident that we have an excellent tandem for the future.”
Raanta, acquired last year from the New York Rangers, is a big reason for the Coyotes’ first four-game winning streak since Jan. 4-12, 2016. He has won four in a row, giving up only three goals, and five of six (5-0-1).
Raanta is coming off a 1-0 shutout of the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday in which he made 40 saves.
The Flames will be coming off yet another loss in a key game.
Forward Johnny Gaudreau has four goals and 13 points in 11 February games and is among the NHL leaders with 38 points on the road, but four losses in five games badly hurt the Flames’ playoff chances.
“At this point of the season, you’ve got to worry about getting points … we’ve got to move on up,” Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. “We have to be (desperate). When you lose a couple of games, even one in overtime, you fall right out of it. We want to wake up every day and be in a (playoff) spot. And to do that we’ve got to string some (wins) together.”
It will be a big night at Gila River Arena for Lynn Hamilton, a former Olympic basketball player for Canada. Not only is she accompanying son Dougie, a Flames defenseman, on the team’s annual moms’ road trip, her son Freddie is a Coyotes forward. Expect a family dinner afterward. The Flames’ Hamilton had a goal and an assist at Las Vegas.
This will be the first of three games between the Pacific Division teams over the closing stretch of the season. Calgary won the only previous game, 3-0 on Nov. 30, behind former Arizona goaltender Mike Smith’s 28 saves.