Outside of midseason acquisition Taylor Hall, very few Arizona Coyotes forwards have been consistent point producers in 2019-20. The Coyotes have struggled all season to score goals – they're ranked at 22nd in the league with 2.73 goals per game entering play on Thursday – and the lack of consistent goal production has hurt the team greatly with Vezina Trophy contender Darcy Kuemper still on the shelf with a lower-body injury.
Aside from Hall, there have been a handful of players that head coach Rick Tocchet can count on to produce offensively, and one who brings it each and every night is second-year winger Conor Garland. The two-time winner of the CHL Leading Scorer Award, Garland was selected in the fifth round, at No. 123 overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He turned pro in 2016 after finishing an illustrious major junior career with the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats with eye-popping totals of 104 goals and 228 assists for 328 points in 206 regular-season games, plus 45 more points in 44 postseason games.
Conor Garland during his major-junior career with the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats. (Credit: Daniel St. Louis Photography)
Following his aforementioned high-scoring QMJHL career, Garland struggled greatly during his first two seasons with the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners, posting 13 goals and 28 assists in 110 games across the 2016-17 and 2017-18 AHL regular seasons. There were concerns about Garland's size when he was drafted, which was part of the reason why he fell to the fifth round, and these concerns were seemingly being realized as Garland, listed at 5-foot-10, 165-pounds, struggled to put up points in Tucson.
However, Garland continued to work on his game, and, in the final year of his entry-level contract, began the 2018-19 campaign scoring at a point-per-game average in the AHL. He quickly earned an NHL call-up, then scored 13 goals along with 5 assists in just 47 games with the Coyotes to earn himself a two-year, $1.55 million contract extension.
Determined to stay in the NHL, Garland has played a fearless game in 2019-20 – he never backs down from a confrontation after a whistle and has continually displayed a willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals, as is evidenced by this goal he scored last season.
One play that encapsulates Garland's season to this point was his effort in the closing minutes of Tuesday night's victory over the Edmonton Oilers. With his net empty, Oilers' defenseman Ethan Bear skated the puck back towards his own end to enable an Edmonton line change. The entire time he had the puck, he was harrassed by Garland, and, eventually, Bear turned the puck over in the neutral zone.
Shortly thereafter, Christian Dvorak was able to score into the empty net to ice the game. Lawson Crouse received the only assist on the play, but it was Garland's effort that made it happen. Garland scored his 18th of the year earlier in the game, too, giving him a three-game point streak, and nine points over his last eight games played.
The outlook for Garland in 2019-20 wasn't always this rosy, though – in the games leading up the 2019 Christmas break, he was in the midst of a huge slump. After a hot start which included 10 goals and 4 assists in the first 22 games, No. 83 then struggled through the worst stretch of his career – from Nov. 21 to Dec. 23, Garland posted just three points in 16 games while playing just 12:41 per night.
Conor Garland is in the midst of establishing himself as a top-six NHL forward. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Garland's final three games before the holiday break, in particular, were troubling. Entrusted with an average of just 10:01 per game during this three-game stretch, Garland posted no points, no hits, one blocked shot, and just three shots on net. It looked as if he may have hit the proverbial “rookie wall” during his first full NHL campaign, but Garland stepped up his game following the holiday break in a big way.
In 16 games since then, the Scituate, MA native has recorded six goals and eight assists and is Arizona's second-leading scorer during this stretch. He's also seeing significant time on the power-play unit and is playing an average 15:45 per night. It's clear that he's regained Tocchet's trust, and Garland himself is visibly playing with a lot more confidence as a result.
Garland has become a fan favorite over the course of his NHL career due to his effort every night, and he has a real shot at becoming the first Coyote since Radim Vrbata in 2011-12 to reach the 30-goal mark. With one more year remaining on his team-friendly contract, Garland is one of the NHL's biggest steals at the moment, and, if he is able to sustain his play, Garland could go down as the biggest late-round steal of the 2015 draft.
Coyotes Week in Review
Following a bad 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in their first game back after the All-Star break on Jan. 29, the Coyotes returned home and were back in action again the next night against the rival Los Angeles Kings. LA got out to a good start and held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes on an Alex Iafallo goal, but the Coyotes seemingly regained control in the second period with goals from Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
Alex Iafallo burned the Coyotes for a hat trick in last week's contest between the teams. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
However, the Kings pushed hard in the final 20 minutes – they outshot Arizona 16-3 in the third period and eventually tied the game up with an Iafallo power-play goal with 2:54 left. The game then headed to overtime, and Iafallo needed just 24 seconds to complete his hat trick, as he received a nifty pass from captain Anze Kopitar on a give-and-go play and beat Adin Hill on the blocker side to send the Coyotes to a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the league's 30th-ranked team.
On Saturday, the Coyotes hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in the final game of the season series between the teams. Arizona was looking to complete a season sweep after picking up a shootout victory in Chicago back on Dec. 8 and a regulation triumph on home ice four days later, but it would be the ‘Hawks who got out to a good start on this night. Brandon Saad scored his 14th and 15th goals of the season to open the scoring, but Brad Richardson and Conor Garland responded to knot things up at two goals apiece after 40 minutes.
Patrick Kane scored the shootout-winning goal on Saturday at Gila River Arena. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
There would be no further scoring following Garland's goal – both goalies played out of their minds in the third period and overtime, and the teams settled things in a shootout. In the skills contest, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both scored, while Corey Crawford stopped both Schmaltz and Garland to send the Coyotes to a 3-2 loss.
Now carrying the burden of a five-game losing streak, the ‘Yotes ended their week on Tuesday evening against Dave Tippett and the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton, who delivered an embarrassing 7-3 beating to Arizona back on Jan. 18, had just completed an emotionally draining stretch of playing their hated rivals, the Calgary Flames, thrice in a six-game span, and it became clear early on that this would not be their night in Glendale.
Antti Raanta stopped all 30 shots he saw in a shutout victory over the Oilers on Tuesday. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
The normally potent Oilers' power-play unit sputtered out in the desert – they entered the game with a near-30 percent success rate, but they failed on all three of their chances, and even surrendered a shorthanded goal to Arizona's Lawson Crouse. Garland also added his 18th of the year, and Christian Dvorak scored into an empty net in the closing minutes to put the cherry on top of a potentially season-saving 3-0 shutout win for Arizona.
A Look Ahead
The Coyotes will look to follow up Tuesday's shutout victory with another solid effort on Thursday night, when the Carolina Hurricanes will come to Gila River Arena for the only time this season.
2006 Stanley Cup champion Rod Brind'Amour has done a nice job behind the bench in Carolina since taking over. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
The ‘Canes won a 3-0 decision between these two teams in Raleigh back on Jan. 10, but the Coyotes own a two-game winning streak against Carolina on home ice, and are 2-1-2 overall in their last five against the Hurricanes in the Valley of the Sun. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. in Glendale.
After wrapping things up against Carolina, the Coyotes will hit the road for yet another trip to the East Coast, starting on Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins.
David Pastrnak could hit the 60-goal mark this season in Boston – the Coyotes need to slow him down to have a chance on Saturday. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
The Coyotes finished the 2010s with an atrocious 1-14-1 record against Boston. They won the first meeting of the decade between the teams back on Oct. 9, 2010, but then lost the next 15 in a row while gaining only one point in the process – here's hoping the 2020s will bring better fortune for the club when it comes to playing against the Bruins. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:00 P.M. local time at TD Garden (1:00 P.M. in Arizona).
Stop No. 2 on the Coyotes' fifth trip to the East Coast will come on Monday evening in Montreal, where Arizona will visit the Bell Centre for the only time this season.
After posting 72 points in his debut season in Montreal, Max Domi is on pace for just 54 points in his second year as a Canadien. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Le bleu, blanc, et rouge are in the midst of another tough season under Marc Bergevin's watch – they've missed the playoffs in three of the past four years, and are not trending in the right direction so far in 2019-20. This one will get started at 7:00 P.M. in Quebec.
From there, the Coyotes will make the short trek to “the Six” for a matchup against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. These two teams last met back on Nov. 21 in Glendale – Sheldon Keefe was coaching his first game with the Maple Leafs after Mike Babcock was relieved of his duties, and the Coyotes were thoroughly manhandled by a determined Toronto team on that night to the tune of a 3-1 final score in a game which never felt close.
Sheldon Keefe has turned the Maple Leafs' season around since taking over for Mike Babcock, but they're still not in a playoff spot at the moment. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)
Working in Arizona's favor in this one, though, is the fact that Toronto seems to have slipped back into some of their old habits as of late. After rolling through the holiday season with a 15-4-1 record from Nov. 21 to Jan. 4 under Keefe, the Leafs have played sub-.500 hockey since Jan. 6 and are, as of this writing, on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture looking in as a result. The Coyotes have also dominated at Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre) in recent years – dating back to the 2004-05 lockout, Arizona owns an 8-0-1 record in Toronto. They'll look to keep that point streak alive when this one gets started at 7:00 P.M. in Canada's biggest city (5:00 P.M. in Arizona).
Pacific Division Roundup
With just 58 days to go until the final day of the 2019-20 NHL regular season, not much, outside of the St. Louis Blues once again looking like an outstanding team, has been determined in the Western Conference playoff picture, especially when it comes to the top five Pacific Division teams.
With the San Jose Sharks, Ducks, and Kings occupying the cellar out west, the remaining clubs are all fighting for playoff position. The Vancouver Canucks have a three-point lead for first place entering play on Thursday, but a hot stretch by one of the other clubs could change the standings rapidly. It should be a crazy two months in the Pacific – here's a look at how the division fared last week:
Anaheim Ducks (22-26-5, 49 points)
Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 L vs TB, 3-1 W at LA, 3-2 SOW at OTT)Analysis: The Ducks have risen from the absolute dead in recent weeks – they've won four of their last six after previously picking up four wins in a 15-game span from Dec. 12 to Jan. 13. It's probably too little, too late at this point, but Anaheim should reconsider selling off pieces en masse at the deadline if they can continue to make progress with this group.Player of the week: Rickard Rakell – Goal, 3 assists, +4This week: Thu at MTL, Fri at TOR, Sun at BUF, Tue vs STL
Calgary Flames (27-21-6, 60 points)
Last week: 0-2-0 (8-3 L vs EDM, 3-1 L vs SJ)Analysis: The Flames have seen a decline in their play over the past four weeks or so – they haven't won in regulation since Jan. 11 and are just 2-4-1 since. They're now in the West's No. 8 playoff spot with a two-point lead over the surging Chicago Blackhawks. They'll need to get things turned around quickly, but it could be difficult without captain Mark Giordano, who may have suffered a significant injury on Tuesday against the Sharks.Player of the week: Mark Giordano – 3 assistsThis week: Thu vs NSH, Sat at VAN, Mon at SJ, Wed at LA
Mark Giordano could miss time with a lower-body injury. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Edmonton Oilers (28-19-6, 62 points)
Last week: 2-1-0 (4-2 W vs STL, 8-3 W at CGY, 3-0 L at AZ)Analysis: The Oilers locked up an 8-3 victory over the hated Flames on Saturday to improve to 8-1-2 since Dec. 27, but then followed that up with an absolute clunker in Arizona to close out the week. It's understandable considering the latest Battle of Alberta was an emotional affair, which included a scrap between the two goalies, but head coach Dave Tippett couldn't have been happy with what he saw from the visiting bench at Gila River Arena.Player of the week: Leon Draisaitl – 2 goals, 4 assists, +5, 13 SOGThis week: Thu vs SJ, Sat vs NSH, Tue vs CHI
Los Angeles Kings (19-30-5, 43 points)
Last week: 1-2-0 (3-2 OTW at AZ, 3-1 L vs ANA, 4-2 L at WSH)Analysis: The Kings began the firesale late on Wednesday night, sending goalie Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for picks and prospects. Who will be the next to be moved as Los Angeles heads towards the trade deadline as certain sellers?Player of the week: Alex Iafallo – 3 goals including OT winner at AZThis week: Thu at NYI, Sat at NJ, Sun at NYR, Wed vs CGY
San Jose Sharks (23-27-4, 50 points)
Last week: 1-1-0 (3-0 L vs TB, 3-1 W at CGY)Analysis: The Sharks have split their last four games, allowing three combined goals in the wins while surrendering eight in the two losses. That kind of inconsistency from the club's goaltenders is a big reason why San Jose is in the midst of a lost season. Let's not overlook the big milestone reached by Joe Thornton, though – the grizzled veteran became just the 14th member of the 1,500-point club on Tuesday night in Calgary with, fittingly, an assist. It might be a while before we see this one again – there are only seven active players with 1,000 or more points, and the highest-scoring one of those, Alex Ovechkin, is still 232 away.Player of the week: Joe Thornton – 2 assists, earned 1,500th pointThis week: Thu at EDM, Mon vs CGY
Vancouver Canucks (30-19-5, 65 points)
Last week: 1-1-1 (4-3 OTW at NYI, 4-3 SOL at CAR, 4-0 L at BOS)Analysis: On the surface, the Canucks' 1-1-1 record last week seems pedestrian, but note that Vancouver's schedule was comprised of three road games in four nights against three playoff-contending clubs. They still own a 5-1-1 mark in their last seven and will return back to the friendly confines of Rogers Arena for a six-game homestand on Saturday, where they'll look to add to their stellar 17-5-3 home record.Player of the week: Quinn Hughes – 2 goals, assist, +2This week: Thu at MIN, Sat vs CGY, Mon vs NSH, Wed vs CHI
Vegas Golden Knights (27-21-7, 61 points)
Last week: 2-1-0 (4-3 W at CAR, 3-0 W at NSH, 4-2 L at TB)Analysis: The dismissal of Gerard Gallant back on Jan. 15 hasn't provided Vegas with an immediate boost like a coach firing does for some teams, but the Golden Knights, 3-2-1 under Peter DeBoer, are still in good shape regardless due to the relative parity in the Western Conference. At 61 points, Vegas would be in 11th place if it was in the Eastern Conference, but, in the Pacific, that's good enough for third in the division.Player of the week: Jonathan Marchessault – Goal, 3 assists, +1This week: Thu at FLA, Sat vs CAR, Tue at MIN
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