GLENDALE, Ariz. — They owned the worst record in the NHL even before they lost four of their last five. They’re not winning in their conference, or in their own arena and, now, they’re not scoring goals, either.
So where do the Arizona Coyotes go from here after an inglorious start to their season, with only six wins in 28 games and only two in 11 games on their home ice?
The answer, it seems, is the same as it’s been all season: They’re home long enough to unpack their suitcases — this time, for a Saturday night game against the New Jersey Devils — before going on the road again.
The Coyotes (6-18-4) aren’t blaming the dreadful schedule for their terrible start, but it’s certainly not helping one of the league’s youngest teams — one that is lacking in experience, proven goal scorers and reliable game-to-game goaltending.
After playing the Devils, they return immediately to the road to play Sunday at the Vegas Golden Knights — who’ve beaten them three straight times — before heading for the fourth time already this season, to play at Boston, Columbus and Chicago. After that stretch, they’ll have played 13 of 18 on the road.
New Jersey will be a challenge, too; the Devils (15-6-4) won 2-1 at Colorado on Friday night as Jesper Bratt scored his eighth of the season, off an Avalanche giveaway, and set up Brian Boyle’s game-winning power-play goal 6:11 into the third period. Cory Schneider (10-5-1) made 22 saves, so backup Keith Kinkaid (5-1-1) will start at Arizona.
Coyotes coach Rich Tocchet said it’s a “brutal schedule,” and it likely contributed to a 3-0 loss at Calgary on Thursday night in which backup goaltender Scott Wedgewood faced 44 shots in the Coyotes’ first shutout loss of the season.
“We were out of gas,” Tocchet said. “You could tell. Some guys were going, but we looked like a tired hockey team. It’s a lesson learned. If you’re tired, you have to play a little smarter.”
And dig down a little deeper, which he didn’t believe all of his players did. It’s been a recurring theme for Tocchet in his first season in the desert: He doesn’t believe every player is giving 100 percent in every game. And it’s clearly bothering him.
“Some guys weren’t good,” Tocchet said. “In this league, if you’re down 2-0 with nine minutes left, you’re still in the game. Some guys, I thought, gave a little bit there. We won’t accept that. Guys won’t be on our team if they’re going to give when they’re down 2-0.”
Tocchet made similar comments following a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at Gila River Arena on Oct. 14 dropped the Coyotes to 0-4-1, but there were no widespread changes even after they lost their next six games.
There won’t be a change in goal Saturday; starting goalie Antti Raanta, injured and out for the third time this season, won’t face New Jersey but might be ready Sunday to play in Las Vegas. That means Wedgewood, who began the season as a Devils backup, is all but certain to start for a fifth consecutive game.
It’s uncertain if defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson will play. He sat out Thursday with an upper body injury after being hurt during a 3-2 overtime loss in Edmonton on Tuesday night.
Another problem: Clayton Keller, the Coyotes’ rookie 19-year-old left wing, leads them in scoring with 11 goals and 10 assists, but he has no goals and only four assists in his last 12 games.
As Wedgewood adequately summed it up following the goal-less loss in Calgary, “It’s tough when you don’t score.”
Left winger Taylor Hall is scoring for the Devils, with eight goals and 19 assists in 25 games. He has two goals in his last four games, and he scored twice as the Devils beat the Coyotes 4-3 on Oct. 28.
New Jersey has been strong on the road all season, going 9-2-2, and is 3-2-2 against the Pacific Division. The Devils also are a plus-five in goal scoring, the Coyotes have allowed a league-worst 101 goals and have scored only 66.
The Devils, looking to solidify their blue line, picked up defenseman Sami Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks for forwards Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi, plus a draft pick, before the Colorado game. Vatanen has a goal and three assists this season, and he played 23:13 in his Devils debut Friday.
“It’s been something else, all this traveling and new faces and getting to know everybody and jump into the game. But what better way, than to win?” Vatanen said. “I think we play very fast hockey and when everybody’s skating, we’re dangerous.”
The Devils are 3-1 this season in the second game of back-to-back games, including that win over the Coyotes on Oct. 28 — Arizona’s record-tying 11th consecutive loss to start a season.