The Oilers are in Arizona to take on the Coyotes tonight. Naturally, my inquisitive nature took me to Carl. Carl is the managing editor of SB Nation’s Five for Howling, and I had some questions about the Coyotes for Carl.
Let’s do it.
Copper and Blue: Like the Oilers, the Coyotes have had a fine start to the 2019-20 NHL season. What’s the biggest contributing factor to starting off so well?
Five for Howling: The biggest factor is the fact that the Coyotes can score this season. Last season the Coyotes were 28th in goals scored and the power play was ranked 26th. The team didn’t have a single 20 goal scorer, and Clayton Keller led the team with 47 points. As of right now, the team is 22nd in goals scored with 37, despite playing fewer games than most of the teams above them. Last season, Arizona was a great defensive team with no offense, and while this season they are a great defensive team with an average offense. While they are by no means a Cup contender at this point, they are proving to be a team that demands to be taken seriously.
Copper and Blue: Nick Schmaltz is currently leading Arizona with 12 points (4-8-12) in 13 games. If you gave me ten guesses as to who was leading the Coyotes in points, Nick Schmaltz probably wouldn’t have come out of my mouth. Who saw this coming?
Five for Howling: I think a lot of Arizona fans saw this coming. After being acquired last season from the Chicago Blackhawks, Schmaltz was 4-9-14 in 17 games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had great chemistry with Clayton Keller, and he brought life to the Coyotes’ terrible power play last season. Dylan Strome, who the Coyotes traded along with Brendan Perlini, would have a very successful season with the Blackhawks with 17 goals and 34 assists in 58 games, causing everyone to declare that the Blackhawks won the trade. But Schmaltz’s short time in Arizona showed that he worked with the system and the team signed him to a seven-year, $40.95 million extension, which was largely panned by people not in Arizona. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Schmaltz has been playing well largely away from Keller, including with fifth-round pick Conor Garland, who currently leads the team with 7 goals.
Copper and Blue: Yotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper is blowing the doors off right now. He’s sporting a sparkling .942 SV%, including one shutout. .942 is just off the charts, but what’s fair to expect from a full season of Darcy Kuemper?
Five for Howling: After Antti Raanta went down with an injury last season, Coyotes fans largely felt the season was over. Darcy Kuemper apparently had other ideas, and in 55 games he sported a .925 SV%. Honestly, that seemed unsustainable, but he has shown no sign of slowing down, and with Raanta healthy and serving as a de facto 1b he will probably get more opportunities to rest this season. If last season wasn’t a fluke, and early indications point to it not being one, I think we can expect similar numbers this season and Kuemper may be included in the conversation for the Vezina. It’s pretty astonishing for a player that was acquired for Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood.
Copper and Blue: This year, the Coyotes introduced a Spanish language Twitter account (@LosYotes), along with Spanish-language Instagram and Facebook accounts. Have these accounts helped develop any new fans among Arizona’s Spanish speaking population?
Five for Howling: I think the Spanish language social media accounts are a long term strategy for developing helping grow the game in a community that has historically not been marketed to. It has only been a month so it is tough to say if it is having the desired effect, but if nothing else it is a goodwill gesture that is definitely appreciated by a lot of the fanbase. Although I haven’t attempted to take a representative sample, I can say that no Latinx person I have spoken to has felt that the social media accounts are pandering, especially in the context of the Coyotes new majority owner Alex Meruelo who is Cuban-American. Arizona has a very large Spanish speaking population, and while a Twitter account isn’t going to turn them into fans overnight, I think over the cause a lot more people to give hockey a chance and fall in love with the sport. And for the Spanish speaking fans who are already into hockey before this was announced I have to imagine it’s just icing on the cake.
Copper and Blue: Finally, are these Coyotes for real? Is there a playoff berth for the Coyotes come April? Why or why not?
Five for Howling: It’s still really early and history has taught me to be pessimistic but more and more I think the Coyotes will make the playoffs this season. They have the same stellar defense and great goaltending from last season, and with a newfound offense they are showing that they can win games. This is also probably the most talented team that the Coyotes have iced in a very long time, eagle-eyed readers will probably notice that I haven’t mentioned Phil Kessel once yet, despite him being freaking Phil Kessel. There are a lot of games between now and April and the Pacific is super weird this season (seriously who predicted Vancouver would be second?) but if the team can keep it up they will finally return to the postseason for the first time since 2011-12.
Thanks to Carl for his time.
Carl Pavlok is the managing editor of Five for Howling.