The Coyotes' persistent penalty problem

Mar 25, 2023 - 7:00 PM
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Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

A surprising number of things have gone right for the Arizona Coyotes this season. Clayton Keller is having a monster season, rookies like Matias Maccelli and Juuso Välimäki are stepping up quicker than expected, and they have been playing phenomenally well at home. But, unfortunately, the Coyotes still have problems, and one consistent issue has been their penchant for taking penalties.

The Coyotes are the sixth most penalized team in the NHL, with 800 penalty minutes taken over 73 games. For reference, the Montréal Canadiens are the most penalized team, with 856 penalties over 72 games.

But the Coyotes are number one in other areas related to penalties. They are the worst team at net penalties (penalties drawn versus penalties taken) with a -69, which is not nice, and they have taken the most bench minors with 17.

Also, according to More Hockey Stats, they have taken the most too many men on the ice penalties in the league, with 15. That means that once every five games, the Coyotes will be assessed a bench minor for too many men, leaving their team short-handed.

The Coyotes are short-handed far too much and currently lead the league in short-handed time on ice per games played, averaging 6:12 short-handed each game. Not surprisingly, this has seen them give up a lot of goals, and the Coyotes lead the league in power play goals against with 67.

The numbers don’t tell you that the Coyotes are also taking penalties at the worst times.

Last night, Victor Söderström was sent to the box for tripping with a minute and 31 seconds left in regulation, killing any shot at a comeback to tie the game. Against the Edmonton Oilers, a late call against Välimäki led to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tying the game before the end of the second period, and a late third-period call against Connor Mackey made it harder for the Coyotes to retake the lead before the end of regulation.

With a widespread issue like this, it is clear that it is not just one player who is the problem. Liam O’Brien is the Coyotes’ most-penalized player, but he is tied for 22nd in penalty minutes with 74. The Lightning’s Pat Maroon is the most penalized player and has 119 penalty minutes.

The Coyotes’ lack of skill and young roster are likely contributing factors. If you can’t keep up or get caught doing something that would have worked at a lower level, you take a penalty to prevent the other team from scoring and getting further behind. This means the Coyotes should take fewer penalties as the roster improves and younger players adjust their game to the NHL level.

The team’s frequent too many men on the ice calls are unusual but not necessarily an unsolvable issue. While they lead the league this season, last year, their first under Head Coach André Tourigny saw them take only five calls. So the problem doesn’t seem to be coaching related, although it will require coaching to solve.

While it is fine that the Coyotes are taking penalties during a tank season, this can not be allowed to carry over when they start to get competitive. Eventually, the team will be competing for something other than the first overall pick, and by then, they will hopefully find a way to stay out of the box.

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