Coyotes quarter-pole examination: what's working, what's not

BY foxsports • November 24, 2014

The Coyotes passed the quarter point of the season this weekend in California. With a day off to reflect before they face the Colorado Avalanche, we're taking a look at what's working and what's not.

Pacific Division play: Despite Sunday's 2-1 loss in Anaheim -- the Coyotes second game in Anaheim this season -- Arizona is 6-2 against its own division. If that keeps up, the Coyotes will be able to hang around the playoff picture. Arizona has wins over the Kings, Ducks, Canucks, Sharks and Oilers (twice). The losses are to the Ducks and Flames. 

Goalie Devan Dubnyk: The Coyotes signed Dubnyk to a one-year, $800,000 deal in the offseason to replace Thomas Greiss as their backup. In six starts, he is 5-0-1, owns a 2.34 goals against average and a .926 save percentage (tied for seventh in the NHL). For whatever reason, the Coyotes have also played better in front of Dubnyk than they have in front of starter Mike Smith.

Faceoffs: The Coyotes are fifth in the NHL in overall faceoff percentage at 52.5. While this stat may get too much credit for driving possession, it's a good start on possession and it's better than the alternative: losing faceoffs. Center Martin Hanzal is second in the NHL among qualified players with a 59.3 percent success rate. Antoine Vermette is 32nd at 52.7 percent and Joe Vitale is 34th at 52.4 percent.

Blocked shots: The Coyotes are fourth in the league in blocked shots with 361. They have shown much greater dedication to this area of the game in recent weeks. Defenseman Michael Stone leads the team and is third in the NHL with 59 blocks. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek (49) is 10th in the NHL.

AVALANCHE (7-9-5) at COYOTES (9-11-2)

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Injuries: Arizona C Martin Hanzal (lower body) is day to day but there is a good chance he will play. RW David Moss (upper body) and D Brandon Gormley (lower body) are day to day. Colorado D Ryan Wilson (shoulder surgery) is out for the season. F Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery) is out until late December. F Dennis Everberg (separated shoulder), F Jamie McGinn (back) and D Brad Stuart (hamstring) are on IR. F Alex Tanguay (facial fracture), F Jesse Winchester (concussion) and F John Mitchell (leg) are day to day. G Semyon Varlamov (groin) is day to day and won't play.
Quick facts: The Avs have been one of the league's worst possession teams the past two seasons. Unlike last year when they confounded the analytics, the Avs are paying for that fact with a poor start. Recent injuries have made it even harder on Colorado. ...  Colorado's power play is 27th in the NHL at 12.7 percent and 26th in goals against per game (3.1). ... Like the Coyotes, the Avs have struggled in 5-on-5 play, with a .83 goals for/against ratio (25th). ... 2013-14 rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon leads the Avs with 16 points (five goals). ... The Coyotes re-assigned F Lucas Lessio to Portland of the AHL. ... Reto Berra will start in goal for Colorado.

Forward Tobias Rieder: Rieder hasn't put up big offensive numbers (one goal, four points) but he has validated everything coach Dave Tippett said about him in training camp. He's a smart, responsible, fast player who makes good decisions and rarely makes mistakes with the puck. Tippett said in camp he would be the first call-up at forward. Now we know why. 

Five-on-five play: The Coyotes are 27th in the NHL at even strength with a 0.78 goals for/against ratio. That shouldn't come as a great surprise on a team lacking the top-end skill to match up with the Western Conference's elite clubs. The Coyotes can't control that deficiency but they can play better in their own end, something they've done in recent weeks.

Central Division games: It's great that the Coyotes are playing well against their own division since they play more games there than anywhere else, but the Central clubs are competing for Western Conference playoff spots with the Pacific and the Coyotes are 0-5-1 against the Central, losing to Winnipeg, St. Louis, Dallas (twice), Minnesota and Nashville (shootout). 

Mike Smith's starts: Smith (4-11-1) got off to a disastrous start, allowing 16 goals in his first three starts. Those games have skewed his numbers (3.22 goals against average, .893 save percentage). But an odd early trend has developed in which the Coyotes play better in front of Dubnyk than Smith. Arizona has more points in Dubnyk's six starts (11) than it has in Smith's 16 starts (9). 

Goals against: We could easily mention goals per game here. The Coyotes are 26th in the NHL at 2.36 goals per game, but that was expected with the forward make-up of this roster. Unfortunately for Arizona, it is 24th in goals allowed per game (3.0) and save percentage (.903). If those numbers don't improve significantly the playoffs are a pipe dream.

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