Depleted Bruins face quick turnaround vs. Coyotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Boston Bruins have a short turnaround between games before they play the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, and they're no doubt hoping that doesn't make for a long night at Gila River Arena.
Right now, the Bruins are playing very short-handed. And the Coyotes are playing short-handed like no other NHL team in 30 years.
The Coyotes (9-8-1) have lost four of six games, but they've won five of their last six on home ice. Short-handed goals are a major reason for that -- they have an NHL-leading 10 of them, or more than double any other team. Michael Grabner has four short-handed goals himself, and Brad Richardson has three.
The last team to have at least 10 short-handed goals through their first 18 games was the Edmonton Oilers, who had 11 in 1988-89. The Flyers also had 11 in 1973-74 and the St. Louis Blues had 10 in 1975-76.
The Coyotes have more short-handed goals than they have power-play goals (9).
"It's incredible all the shorties we've had," goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
The Bruins (10-6-3) must think it's incredible how many injuries they've had.
They're so depleted along the blue line, they called up not one but two defensemen in Jakob Zboril and Connor Clifton to make their NHL debuts as they lost 1-0 to the Dallas Stars in overtime Friday night. Their current top-pairing defenseman, Matt Grzelcyk, was their No. 7 defenseman to begin the season.
"It's the National Hockey League, you can either play in it or you can't, and we'll find out with some of these guys," Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday. "Sometimes this is the best way to find out, that's the positive in it. The negative is we've got a lot of good players out of the lineup back there."
Among the defensemen currently out is Zdeno Chara, who was sent back to Boston for testing following a 6-3 loss at the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
"No, not this many at the same time," Cassidy said when asked if he's seen a team go through something like this. "Clearly you lose guys through the course of the year, five or six, but not at the same time."
Now, the Bruins must play a back-to-back on the road when they're far from full strength.
"It will be a challenge, no doubt," Cassidy said.
The injuries are mounting up, too, for the Coyotes, who apparently lost top-pair defenseman Jason Demers to a season-ending lower-body injury in the final minute of their 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday. Demers scored his first goal of the season in that game.
"This is what happens in terms of having depth on the blue line," coach Rick Tocchet said Friday. "You get tested. These are the times of the year when you're getting tested with injuries."
Jaroslav Halak is expected to be in goal for Boston. He took the loss Wednesday at Colorado, giving up six goals on 25 shots, but is 2-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average this season. In his career, Halak is 8-3-2 with a 2.08 goals-average and a .927 save percentage against Arizona.
The Coyotes are expected to give Kuemper his seventh consecutive start in place of the injured Antti Raanta, who could be returning soon.
Kuemper made a career-high 44 saves against Nashville and is 4-4-1 with a 2.77 goals-against average.
Kuemper lost his two previous starts against the Bruins, allowing six goals on 46 shots (3.04 goals-against average).
The Coyotes' short-handed success is one reason why they've made a significant turnaround from last season, when they were 2-13-3 through 18 games. They didn't win their ninth game then until Dec. 27, in game 39.
"The guys (are) working so hard, giving them a lot of pressure and not letting them set up and make the plays they want. I think that's why we've had the success we've had," Kuemper said of the Coyotes' penalty-killing unit.