TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona made history by winning consecutive games against the last five franchises to win the Stanley Cup.
The Coyotes have done it with grit, a talented, youthful core and a “Dateline”-loving goalie on the best run of his short career.
“The whole building has a different feel right now when you get on a streak at home like this,” Coyotes goalie Connor Ingram said after Monday night’s 6-0 home beatdown of Washington. “This is what people want to see around here.”
Coyotes fans have been waiting for a reason to believe.
Arizona qualified for the playoffs in 2020, but it came in the NHL bubble during the pandemic and fans weren’t allowed in the arenas. Before that, the Coyotes had not been to the postseason since a Valley-rallying run to the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
With the franchise stuck in a rut, general manager Bill Armstrong orchestrated a rebuilding plan centered on a core of key young talent and an accumulation of draft picks.
The rebuilding project, after some shaky moments at the start, appears to be rounding toward a return to relevancy. The Coyotes earned 13 more points in 2022-23 than they did the previous year and got this season off to a decent start, hovering around .500.
Arizona has surged forward during a quirk in the schedule of six straight games against the last five franchises to win the Stanley Cup.
After an ugly loss to St. Louis on Nov. 22, the Coyotes have taken down one recent Cup winner after another. Arizona won at reigning Stanley Cup champion Vegas, then reeled off home wins over Colorado, Tampa Bay and in a rematch against the Blues.
The Coyotes stretched their win streak to five with a dominating performance against Washington on Monday night, scoring five goals in the first period of the 6-0 win for their first five-game winning streak since 2018-19.
With the win, Arizona became the first team in NHL history to win consecutive games against the last five franchises to win the Stanley Cup — with repeat winners not counted twice — according to Sportradar. And, at 13-9-2, the Coyotes are seventh in the Western Conference.
“There’s stretches where you’re going to win a lot of games,” said Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz, who had two goals against the Capitals. “There’s stretches where you’re going to lose and you got to stay with it either way. So we’re doing a good job of managing the puck playing the right way.”
They also have a goalie who’s playing as well as any in the league.
Coach André Tourigny started the season rotating between Ingram and Karel Vejmelka, waiting to see which one would get hot.
Ingram has done just that, becoming the first Coyotes goalie since Mike Smith in 2012 to earn the NHL’s first star of the week.
Ingram has two shutouts the past five games and has allowed five goals in that span. He’s third in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.23 per game, save percentage at .930 and wins at 11.
Playing his second NHL season, he has found a comfort zone that includes listening to “Dateline” podcasts on the way to the arena.
“They’re about 40 minutes and that’s what my drive takes,” Ingram said. “My buddies make fun of me for it, but that’s what I do.”
It’s working for him — and the rest of the Coyotes.
Two-time NHL All-Star Clayton Keller is playing perhaps the best hockey of his career, seemingly a step ahead of everyone on the ice. He had three assists — and it could have been more — against Washington and leads the Coyotes with 24 points and 16 assists.
Schmaltz has been stellar as well, their in-tune connection on the ice leading to nine goals and 11 assists. Lawson Crouse had a team-record 10 goals in November.
Michael Carcone has blossomed after playing 30 combined NHL games his first two seasons, leading the Coyotes with 12 goals. He scored against Washington, extending his goals streak to four straight games.
The Coyotes are blocking shots, their power play has made vast improvements and they have been playing with the kind of infectious enthusiasm that has Mullett Arena rocking even more than usual.
“It’s a lot of fun — I mean, everything’s fun when you’re winning, so having a great time” Schmaltz said. “We’re working for each other, guys are blocking shots when we’re up 6-0. You can tell guys are there for each other.”
A common bond that’s propelled a once-declining franchise into history.
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