After ownership turmoil, bankruptcy and a brief appearance in the Western Conference finals, the Coyotes might be taking a foot out of the sinking sand of desert hockey. Arizona is winning and atop the Pacific Division, attendance is up 9.2% since 2018, and solidified its contender status by trading for Taylor Hall while forfeiting no current roster skaters to the Devils.
New owner Alex Meruelo said “I sure as s--- want to win” when he took over, and GM John Chayka has spent his money to back it up: The Coyotes have taken on $21.1 million in payroll through trades and have doled out another $66.2 million in extensions since Meruelo arrived in June. For one of the few times in the franchise’s stint in Arizona, the Coyotes are spenders, not sellers, as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.
Out east? The Capitals have compiled a league-best 15-2-1 record on the road and had the best start after 34 games in over a decade, even if Washington has displayed a head-scratching penchant for losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now that the NHL coaching carousel has cooled off for a few days, here’s how we see team’s stacking up this week:
31. Detroit Red Wings | 9-23-3 | Previous Ranking: 31
Detroit finally snapped its 12-game losing streak! It took exactly one month—the Lions hadn’t won in that stretch, either—but it’s better than nothing.
30. New Jersey Devils | 10-17-5 | Previous Ranking: 30
The Taylor Hall trade could work out if the conditional pick turns into a first, but two things need to happen: 1. Hall has to re-sign in Arizona and 2. the Coyotes have to win in the first round. One of those two might not happen. The Devils shipped Hall away without receiving a young goaltender or a team’s top prospect. Moving on. New Jersey won its first game under interim coach Alain Nasreddine, but the wins might be sparse if the Devils sell anymore pieces.
29. Los Angeles Kings | 14-18-3 | Previous Ranking: 29
In a battle between the worst teams in each conference, the Kings defeated the Red Wings 4–2 behind two goals from Anze Kopitar. L.A. went through a rough stretch (7-13-2) through the beginning of December, but the rebuild has been less dreary of late in Todd McLellan’s first year. Kings fans can look forward to watching 2019 draft picks Alex Turcotte, and potentially Arthur Kaliyev, play in the 2020 World Junior Championship
28. Columbus Blue Jackets | 13-14-6 | Previous Ranking: 28
The Blue Jackets were thin at the start of the season, but now Zach Werenski, Emil Bemstrom, Josh Anderson and Sonny Milano are all sidelined with injuries. They beat the Capitals anyway.
27. Ottawa Senators | 14-18-2 | Previous Ranking: 27
The pesky Senators won’t go away: One night after defeating the Bruins, Ottawa came back in the third period to snag a point against the Canadiens and then collected an overtime win against the Blue Jackets. Anthony Duclair has scored nine goals in his last seven games, and he’s only two goals away from setting a new personal single-season best.
26. Anaheim Ducks | 14-15-4 | Previous Ranking: 26
After converting just 10% of its power-play opportunities in the first two months of the season, the Ducks extra-man unit has scored on 28.6% of its chances in December, the most important of which came in a 4–3 shootout victory against the Rangers.
25. Chicago Blackhawks | 13-15-6 | Previous Ranking: 25
The Blackhawks squandered a three-goal lead to the St. Louis Blues, allowing four unanswered goals in 13:16, and ended its three-game road trip on a four-game losing streak. Chicago bounced back with a win against the Wild but, since Nov. 19, only the Red Wings and Devils have a worse goal differential than the Blackhawks.
24. New York Rangers | 16-13-4 | Previous Ranking: 24
The Rangers have won back-to-back games just four times all season, but New York managed to go 2-1-1 on its West Coast trip behind Artemi Panarin’s five goals and eight points. The Rangers are a lot of things—young, inconsistent, fun—but boring isn’t one of them.
23. Montreal Canadiens | 15-12-6 | Previous Ranking: 23
Happy Holidays! The Canadiens round out 2019 on a seven-game road trip, the furthest thing from comfort after stumbling to 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Carey Price, though, has rebounded with a .936 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average in December.
22. San Jose Sharks | 16-17-2 | Previous Ranking: 22
Even though the Sharks had the league’s best penalty kill, GM Doug Wilson axed Pete DeBoer after dropping five straight. San Jose responded with a 6–3 loss under interim coach Bob Boughner, but Aaron Dell’s strong performance two nights later helped the Sharks defeat the Canucks, 4–2.
21. Minnesota Wild | 16-13-5 | Previous Ranking: 21
Need a couple prove-it wins? The Wild tagged Edmonton for six goals and then dominated the red-hot Flyers in a 4–1 victory. Minnesota hasn’t become a juggernaut, but it has escaped the cellar with only one regulation loss since Nov. 12.
20. Buffalo Sabres | 16-11-7 | Previous Ranking: 20
Jack Eichel notched two points in a 5–3 loss to the Leafs, pushing his point streak to 17 games and matching the second-longest streak in franchise history. With Toronto and Tampa Bay lagging behind, Eichel has the Sabres sitting at second in the Atlantic Division.
19. Vancouver Canucks | 16-14-4 | Previous Ranking: 14
On the second night of a back-to-back, Jacob Markstrom surrendered five goals on 39 shots before he was yanked for Michael DiPietro. Thatcher Demko has been out since Dec. 12 with a concussion and, with Alexander Edler on the shelf too, the Canucks are starting to suffer injuries in critical areas.
18. Nashville Predators | 15-12-5 | Previous Ranking: 19
Goalie A: .913 save percentage, 2.54 goals against average, 4-2-1 record in his last seven starts.
Goalie B: .871 save percentage, 3.29 goals against average, 3-3-1 record in his last seven starts.
Juuse Saros is goalie A, and he has quietly taken over 1A duties over the past week. Nashville plays four of its next five games against Eastern Conference opponents before its Winter Classic date with the Stars.
17. Florida Panthers | 16-12-5 | Previous Ranking: 15
Behind Noel Acciari’s first career hat trick, the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak with an offensive onslaught against the Senators. Florida’s brief scoring drought ended after Joel Quenneville rejiggered the lines.
16. Philadelphia Flyers | 17-11-5 | Previous Ranking: 10
The Flyers announced Oskar Lindblom would miss the remainder of the season after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of cancer that occurs in the bone or soft issue. Players, teams and the league has rallied around the 23-year-old winger, who was tied for a team-high 11 goals and had been one of the team’s breakout stars. After dropping three straight, the Flyers rebounded with a 4–1 win over Anaheim on a tribute night for Lindblom.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs | 16-14-4 | Previous Ranking: 16
The Maple Leafs are in salary-cap prison, and there’s not much more Toronto can do besides hope that Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie, Jake Muzzin & Co. magically get better in their own zone, or opt for wholesale systematic changes on the blue line. With two weeks until the New Year, the Leafs are one game under .500.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning | 16-12-3 | Previous Ranking: 18
The good: The Lightning notched consecutive wins against the Panthers and Bruins. The bad: They failed to string together success, again, and lost two straight to the Caps and Sens and have an injured Nikita Kucherov.
13. Calgary Flames | 18-13-4 | Previous Ranking: 13
After outscoring opponents 28–17 on a seven-game win streak, the Flames flopped in a 4–0 shutout loss to the Hurricanes. Depth scoring reemerged for Calgary—five different players scored at least three goals in that stretch—and they only trail the Coyotes by four points for the top spot in the Pacific.
12. Vegas Golden Knights | 18-13-5 | Previous Ranking: 17
Goaltending and defense has been inconsistent, but Max Pacioretty has been rock solid. The 12-year veteran leads the Golden Knights with 15 goals and is attempting more shots per game (7.25) than at any point in his career. Meanwhile, Vegas finally climbed above .500 at home and has gone 8-2-1 in its last 11 games.
11. Dallas Stars | 19-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 7
Ben Bishop and Miro Heiskanen have anchored the Stars in their own end, but Dallas’s offense has slowly lagged following a 12-game point streak.
10. Edmonton Oilers | 19-13-4 | Previous Ranking: 8
Where do the Oilers go from here? Since the beginning of November, the Oilers rank bottom-five in goals allowed per 60 minutes. Edmonton fixed that in a 2–1 win over the Stars, but they aren’t in the clear yet.
9. Winnipeg Jets | 20-11-2 | Previous Ranking: 12
Seven (!) different players scored a goal in the Jets’ 7–3 drubbing of the Flyers on Sunday night. Even though Winnipeg’s blue line was picked apart by trades and free agency, the Jets emerged from a rocky October and have gone 14-4-2 in their last 20 games. A trio of games against the Blues (2x) and Avalanche to end the year should help determine Central Division hierarchy.
8. Arizona Coyotes | 19-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 11
Through 36 games, the Darcy Kuemper–Antti Raanta tandem is tied for the league’s highest combined save percentage. No surprise there. With somewhat consistent offensive output, Arizona hasn’t fallen below .500 since Oct. 15. And with his first point in Tuesday's win, Taylor Hall is already fitting in.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins | 19-10-4 | Previous Ranking: 9
No Sidney Crosby? No problem. Backup Tristan Jarry notched his third shutout—the most in the NHL, to go along with a league-best 1.76 goals against average—and has continued to thrive despite injuries ravaging the team in front of him.
6. Carolina Hurricanes | 20-11-2 | Previous Ranking: 6
Carolina’s goaltending tandem carousel has landed on James Reimer, and the 31-year-old netminder has been playing some of his best hockey in seven years. With a 32-save shutout against the Flames, Reimer has a 5-1-0 record, .948 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average since Nov. 16.
5. New York Islanders | 22-7-2 | Previous Ranking: 4
The Islanders’ 5-on-5 offense has dipped from last year, but the team’s 11th-ranked power play has helped pick up the slack. The Isles don’t need to score a lot—their staunch defense and goaltending will take care of that—but Jordan Eberle heating up and Anthony Beauvillier becoming a dependable goal scorer are welcomed signs.
4. Colorado Avalanche | 21-9-3 | Previous Ranking: 3
The Avalanche have outscored opponents 42–24 when Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar all play. The only thing getting in the way of pushing full throttle is health. That, and the Blues, who Colorado has lost eight of its last nine games against dating back to 2017.
3. St. Louis Blues | 21-8-6 | Previous Ranking: 5
The Blues returned home after dropping three straight and won consecutive games against the Golden Knights and Blackhawks, scoring four in each and mounting a four-goal, third-period comeback against Chicago. No matter how many players St. Louis loses, the Blues have found scoring all throughout their lineup. The Blues get the nod this week for beating the Avs.
2. Boston Bruins | 20-5-6 | Previous Ranking: 2
The Bruins lost five straight for the first time since 2016 … and they still had the second-most points in the NHL. Boston snapped its skid with a 4–2 win against Florida and picked up two goals from its second line, jolted by Bruce Cassidy’s decision to move Charlie Coyle up next to David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
1. Washington Capitals | 22-5-5 | Previous Ranking: 1
Back to full health, Nicklas Backstrom has tallied five points in his last four games while the Caps steamroll the Eastern Conference (except for the Blue Jackets). Alex Ovechkin has scored just once in his last seven games but it hasn’t mattered: Washington tied the NHL record for fewest games to 15 road wins after beating Tampa Bay, 5–2.