Arizona Coyotes have found ways to score short-handed, not so much on the power play

Arizona Coyotes' Ilya Lyubushkin fights with Ottawa Senators' Mark Stone in the third period on Oct. 30, 2018 at Gila River Arena.

It was only the preseason, but a two-goal performance by Alex Galchenyuk during a game in which the Coyotes scored three power-play goals in a span of just more than one period was an indication that the Arizona man-advantage was in store for a major facelift this season.

But through the first 11 games of the season, that has not been the case. And even as the Coyotes’ offense has taken flight — having scored 27 goals in their last six games — the team’s power play has struggled to find a rhythm.

Now, a key part of this equation is Galchenyuk, who missed the first seven games of the season with a lower-body injury. With his prolific puck-handling ability and world-class shot, Galchenyuk was expected to serve as the biggest weapon on the Coyotes’ power play but hasn’t yet found fluidity with the unit.

During a Sept. 18 preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings, Galchenyuk potted two goals (one on the power play) in a game the Coyotes won by score of 4-2. The highlight goal of the night came when Oliver Ekman-Larsson delivered a cross-ice feed to Galchenyuk, who ripped a wicked one-timer past the goaltender for the tally.

But the power-play prowess showed in that one exhibition game has not held true in the early going of the 2018-19 season. Entering play Friday, the Coyotes ranked last in the NHL having converted on just 12.9 percent of their power-play opportunities.

Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said he wants to see the team play with “more of an attack mode” on the power play. Instead of the team overthinking the setup of certain plays, Tocchet wants the unit to keep it simple.

“I told them we need more of a 5-on-5 mentality,” Tocchet said. “We have a couple guys, they think (in terms) of setting things up. When you have that in your head, it’s dangerous. I think we have to be aggressive and pretend it’s 5-on-5. When you beat a PK’s pressure, there’s nothing that drives your coach more nuts than when you set it up again.

“We’re getting better and it was nice to see (Oliver) attack that and get in the middle (for his power-play goal on Tuesday). It wasn’t sexy or anything like that, but it was effective and I think we have to ingrain that in our heads.”

Tocchet and assistant coach John MacLean have rotated bodies in and out of the Coyotes’ two power-play units, but several key pieces have stayed the same. The first unit almost always consists of Galchenyuk, Ekman-Larsson and Clayton Keller.

Other forwards such as Derek Stepan, Christian Fischer, Richard Panik, Vinnie Hinostroza, Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini have spent time on both units and some have even been entirely removed from the rotation at times.

As far as defensemen go, the Coyotes have generally employed just one blueliner (Ekman-Larsson) on the top unit and two on the second unit. The two on the second unit have most recently been Alex Goligoski and Jordan Oesterle, the latter of whom has shown significant offensive potential in recent games.

Still, it doesn’t sound as though Tocchet believes the Coyotes’ struggles on the power play are because of a personnel issue. Rather, it seems to be a lack of assertiveness and communication.

“Chemistry is big on the power play, but it’s also making each other accountable,” Tocchet said. “There’s nothing wrong with telling a guy, ‘Hey, you’ve got to shoot that puck because I’m going to the net.’

“I don’t want to be robotic out there because I think, as a coach, you can over-coach it. We’ve got to make sure we give them different concepts to keep them fresh. I think (we need) more of an aggressive attitude.”

And yet, even with the Coyotes’ inability to get the power play going, they have seemingly cured the 5-on-5 scoring woes that plagued them during the first several games of the season.

After being shut out in three of their first four games and not scoring an even-strength goal until their fifth game of the season, the Coyotes entered play Thursday with an NHL-best 27 goals since Oct. 18.

The Coyotes have now scored a goal in 16 of their past 18 periods, a testament to their improved scoring ability. But, the players insist the uptick in goals is not because of a change in philosophy or playing style.

“It’s not one specific thing,” Fischer said. “I think one, we are getting some bounces where in the past we haven’t. Just a little puck luck, but we’ve been sticking with the same plan. It’s not like we’ve changed anything since our first game. We’re playing the same game did then, it’s just a matter of bearing down on our chances and scoring.”

Fischer pointed to the Coyotes’ 5-3 loss in Winnipeg on Oct. 20 as a learning experience for the team. Fischer said the team still took several positives into its next game in Columbus, a contest that kickstarted the Coyotes’ current win streak.

“I’ve said this with multiple losses that a loss is a loss, but there were positives to take away,” Fischer said. “We lost that game (in Winnipeg), but we came back twice and could have scored at the end, too. We haven’t been blown out. Our goalies are giving us chances to win, and it just so happens we’re capitalizing on those chances they’re giving us.

“And now, we’re winning.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *