As the teams that finished with the eighth- and ninth-best records in the Western Conference last season, the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes learned about the small difference between advancing to the playoffs and watching from home.
On Saturday night, when the Avalanche visit the Coyotes, the teams will be looking to bank points that could come in handy several months down the road.
Both teams lost their most recent games. The Avalanche completed a winless three-game homestand Friday by falling 2-1 to the Dallas Stars. The Coyotes last played on Wednesday, when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
The Avalanche and Coyotes are two of nine Western Conference teams with between 15 and 19 points. At least one of those teams, of course, is going to miss the playoffs, which is what Arizona did last season, when it finished four points behind Colorado in the race for the final wild-card spot.
To reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season, the Coyotes will need to minimize games such as the one they endured Wednesday. Road-weary Arizona, which was playing at home for the first time since Oct. 19, gave up the first three goals of the game to the Canadiens and didn’t score until the third period.
“I think the road trip was pretty good to us,” Coyotes center Derek Stepan said of a four-game trip in which Arizona went 3-1-0. “But we came home and got some humble pie.”
The Avalanche has ingested plenty of that lately. An 0-2-1 homestand followed an 8-1-1 start that had established Colorado as an early-season favorite in the Western Conference.
Center Nathan McKinnon scored Friday to extend his season-opening points streak to 13 games — the fourth-longest such streak in the NHL since the 1999-2000 campaign. However, the loss was otherwise particularly disheartening for the Avalanche, who finished 1-for-5 on the power play.
“Our lack of focus and execution was terrible for the first half of the game,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar told reporters afterward. “You’re not going to win if you don’t play 60 minutes, I don’t care who it’s against.”
Philipp Grubauer took the loss for the Avalanche on Friday, which means backup Pavel Francouz likely will be in net for the second game of the back-to-back set.
Francouz made his most recent appearance Oct. 26, when he took the loss after recording 22 saves as Colorado fell 5-2 to the Anaheim Ducks. The 29-year-old Czech Republic native is 2-1-0 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage through three starts this season.
The Coyotes’ No. 1 goalie, Darcy Kuemper, is expected to return to the lineup after sitting out the Wednesday loss. Kuemper last played Monday, when he made 24 saves in Arizona’s 3-2 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Francouz is 1-1-0 with a 1.95 GAA in two career games against the Coyotes, who are the only team he’s faced more than once in his five NHL appearances. Kuemper is 3-1-2 with a 2.09 GAA in seven career games against the Avalanche.
–Field Level Media