Goalie-reliant Coyotes host Sharks

NHL

Expect the Arizona Coyotes to ride their goalies all the way through this 56-game NHL season.

The Coyotes, who open the season Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, have one of the strongest goaltending duos in the league in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Trouble is, they haven’t done much to strengthen their offense.

When the 2019-20 season paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coyotes had a 33-29-8 record for fifth place in the Pacific Division. Conor Garland led the team in goals with a scant 22, while Nick Schmaltz topped the team’s overall scoring with 34 assists and 45 points.

They lost Taylor Hall to free agency, whom they picked up last season to bolster one of the weakest offenses in the league. They also lost free agents Carl Soderberg and underperforming Michael Grabner, while trading center Derek Stepan last month.

All that came without adding much goal-getting staff, with the possible exception of Derick Brassard, who had 10 goals and 22 assists with the New York Islanders last season before testing the free-agency waters.

Thus, the load of work should fall on the shoulders of Kuemper and Raanta.

The 30-year-old Kuemper posted a 2.22 goals-against average and .928 save percentage last season. An injury that forced him to miss two months didn’t stop him from attaining All-Star status or leading the Coyotes past the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round of adjusted playoffs.

“As an individual, you have an expectation of yourself that you just want to go out there and play hard, and do what you can to help the team win,” Kuemper said.

The 31-year-old Raanta, with a .921 save percentage last season, will likely fall to backup status. The goaltending unit is bolstered by No. 3 Adin Hill, who cracks the regular-season roster after being drafted by the Coyotes 76th overall in 2015.

“I like the goalie army that we have here now. We’ve got lots of guys in different positions, so that helps us to complain about the drills and everything else,” Raanta said, offering some humor. “It’s been fun. We’ve been trying a couple of new things with virtual reality. It’s exciting and it’s nice to have new faces and new things we can try.”

The Coyotes and the Sharks faced each other three times last season with the Coyotes winning twice.

The Sharks look a little different after failing to make the postseason. Out is veteran Joe Thornton; in are goaltender Devan Dubnyk and reliable center Ryan Donato, both from the Minnesota Wild.

Evander Kane, hit by the controversy of filing bankruptcy over some $27 million in debt, will play this season, coach Bob Boughner announced Tuesday. Kane, who Boughner said will be in the starting lineup against the Coyotes, had 47 points in 64 games last season.

Many eyes will also be on defenseman Erik Karlsson. Karlsson, a wily playmaker in his third season with the Sharks, has spent the last 11 months off ice working on his body and his mind.

“I’m in a good spot body-wise right now,” said Karlsson, twice a Norris Trophy winner with the Ottawa Senators. “You didn’t really know what to expect when you were put alongside your teammates and you’re trying to go full speed again.

“But I think the two weeks that have transpired here (in training camp), it feels good. Feels like I’m in a good spot, physically and mentally.”

Boughner anticipates Karlsson to be a big part of the Sharks season.

“I think he’s got more jump, I think he looks quicker. You can tell that he’s healthy,” Boughner said. “His attitude’s always good. He loves the game. He approaches every day like it’s a fresh day. He’s got a smile on his face, he looks happy.”

–Field Level Media

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