Wild West: Bright Spots in Arizona
In the midst of a season-high four game win streak, and an 8-5-5 record since the calendar hit 2018, Arizona is salvaging some late success from another year gone wrong.
For a team starting the campaign with 11 straight losses and not earning their fourth win until their 23rd contest it’s hopefully a harbinger of better days. Although they’ve been down this hopeful, late schedule road before, and the streak has come against some slipping competition in Chicago, having just broken an eight-game winless skid; San Jose the best of the bunch at 5-5-1 since late January; Montreal having lost their last five; and the Oilers who ended their six game slide Sunday, there are bright spots.
The brightest is obviously Clayton Keller who looks recovered from a mid-season collision with the rookie wall. Following a five-game pointless streak and a 12-game span featuring just four assists in January and early February, Arizona’s scoring leader landed nine points in his next five contests. The capper was a one-goal, three-assist effort in Thursday’s 5-2 drubbing of the Canadiens.
While Mathew Barzal’s 62 points seem to have usurped talk of a Calder for Clayton, Keller is holding steady tied with 26-year-old Yanni Gourde among rookies with 44 points (17 G, 27 A). Pacific Division foe Brock Boeser sits in second with 49 points, his 27 goals besting all first-year players.
You have to also admire the work Antti Raanta has done recently. After a 40-save shutout, his first this year, against Edmonton Saturday his record stands at 12-14-6. That’s not going to provoke Vezina talk, but it’s pretty damn good on a team with the league’s worst record, especially considering his 2.45, .924 peripherals. Raanta’s goals-against is sixth-best in the league for backstops playing in 30 or more games, the save percentage tied for third.
The scary angle for Arizona fans is his looming free agency. With numbers like that in Glendale, just think of what kind of contract he might command this summer perhaps back in New York on the Island or any other situation in need of net help.
Along with Aaron Dell and Carter Hutton, Raanta should be one of the NHL’s top upcoming free agents in goal and the Coyote brass will likely need to back up the truck to retain him. Who knows, a trade deadline deal could attract a sizable booty and be worth the sacrifice, although getting someone better or equal to Raanta in net would again be costly. At this point neither number two tender Scott Wedgewood nor Tucson Roadrunner Adin Hill would nearly suffice.
Speaking of New York, Raanta’s former Ranger teammate and trade comrade Derek Stepan has also impressed, and not just on offense as he’s sporting a Corsi For of 50% on a squad that’s posted a collective minus-54 goal differential. He’s widely outperforming his teammates here with a 2.8 CF% rel. Stepan’s second on the club with 37 points, 27 of them assists shuttling mainly between the Brendan Perlini–Tobias Rieder line and as pivot for Keller and Max Domi.
He’s also spent a bit over 65% of his power play time with the latter duo in racking up 12 power play points in total, 10 of them assists. While his 0.63 points-per-game pace is slightly off his last five-year 0.75 average, it’s again not bad for a club that’s next to the league bottom in goals scored, ahead of just Buffalo, with 143 on the year.
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