The Arizona Coyotes are still in it.
If the desert dogs do make the playoffs this season, it’ll be the first time they’ve done so since 2011-2012. Back then, they made it to the Western Conference Finals.
The Coyotes have just six games to go in the regular season and they’ll need to collect every point they can. They’re two points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card spot. The Edmonton Oilers are five points behind and may not be a factor.
But Arizona’s 79 points will be put to the test this week, with the club set to meet three critical teams.
Tuesday, they’ll line up against Chicago. The Blackhawks are three points behind Arizona.
Friday, the Coyotes head to Colorado for the Avalanche. And then it’s back home for Minnesota, who have 79 points in 76 games. The Wild will play the Predators Monday night and could slip ahead with a win.
If Arizona can manage to win those three games, they can control their path leading into the final week of the season. If they lose all three, it might be game over.
The margin for error is impossibly thin.
And the trouble with Arizona is they haven’t been winning lately. They’re a miserable 0-3-2 in their past five, plus they’ve only scored six goals. That includes a four-game road swing that only landed them a single point.
“This is the time of year you want to be playing meaningful games,” Coyotes centre Brad Richardson said. “We haven’t done it in a while so we should be excited and having fun with it…It’s a learning process too, so hopefully we can figure it out here quick.”
Arizona does have an awfully large collection of rookies and they’ll have to get to business this week. They’re learning as they go and that presents a portfolio of problems, but it can also help set a team together. Regardless of how this goes, the Coyotes have a learning experience on their hands.
But honestly, that’s naïve. This is a hockey team that wants to win.
“Every team this time of year tightens up defensively, it’s more difficult to score goals, so when you do get opportunities it’s not as cute as games one through 20,” forward Derek Stepan said. “It’s bring it to the net and get one to bounce off someone. That’s how simple it is.”
Simple or not, the Coyotes have their work cut out for them. Once this week is through, they’ll cruise into the final run of the season and face the Kings, Golden Knights and Jets. There are fewer playoff implications loaded into those games, but they’ll be seeking two points a night all the same.
For now, it’s looking like a close one for Arizona. And this coming week’s action could set the stage for a return to the post-season.
(Photo credit: NHL)