The Arizona Coyotes started their 2021 season against the San Jose Sharks and their 2020 rust didn’t follow them.
What would come out of the bench for the 2021 Coyotes team was going to be a mystery. The team faced a lot of changes in the head offices and lost a few notable players such as Taylor Hall. The team did make the playoffs, but Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel didn’t have years that justified their contracts. The San Jose Sharks would be their first test of what was to come this season, and to a surprise to many, the team looked better than they did in 2020.
In the two-game series against the Sharks, the Coyotes came onto the ice and played chillingly like their old selves. Tomáš Hertl scored the first two goals for the Sharks while the Coyotes had trouble shooting and finding their footing throughout the game.
However, the lead scorer in 2019-20, Conor Garland opened the season up for Arizona with their first goal of the regular season. The third period got underway and the San Jose Sharks retaliated with Evander Kane, who scored goal No. 3, putting them ahead 3-1.
With just three minutes left and the Coyotes past issues with scoring, it was expected that this game was over and that the Coyotes would lose quietly. But Keller proved that this year was going to be different for himself and the team and put the puck in the net with just two minutes left.
With the chance to get back into the game in mind and Darcy Kuemper pulled for the game’s final minute, there was a chance for Arizona to force the game into sudden death overtime. For the last minute, that saw the Coyotes with relentless effort against Martin Jones and the Sharks. Then, with a shot on net and two Coyotes in front of Jones, Phil Kessel scored the game-tying goal with just two seconds left to play on the clock.
The game was forced to overtime, and later, the Sharks secured the victory in a shootout.
The Coyotes started stronger in the second game. Their strong possession of the game was halted when Connor Garland was charged with a penalty and Ryan Donato tipped in front of the net. After the goal, it was rather obvious that San Jose had control of the game, but the Coyotes were recovering faster than they did in the opening period. Instead of a 2-0 lead like the first game, the Coyotes managed to tie up the game with Kessel’s backhand, on the power play, to the opposite side of the net.
Barrett Hayton created Arizona’s first lead of the season when he received a pass from Connor Garland, who passed it out from back of the net. The ring that solidified the goal also solidified the lead for the Coyotes. But the Sharks responded with an awkward goal from Timo Meier when what looked like a pass in front of the net bounced off of Jakob Chychrun’s skate and right into the net.
And after a long period, there were two more to play for both the Sharks and Coyotes. It was a back-and-forth between the two teams, as they both had times when they dominated the game, but it was the Coyotes that capitalized on their chances more. Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a shot from the blue line, which was deflected by Kessel to once again give the Arizona Coyotes a lead.
Chychrun secured the next goal for Arizona with another shot from the blue line, making it 4-2 over the Sharks. Clayton Keller would put in the last goal for the Coyotes with a hit, meanwhile, the puck was still to claimed while up in the air. A familiar name from the first game, Hertl scored in the last few minutes, but it was too little too late and San Jose couldn’t come back, falling 5-3.
The Coyotes had an impressive first couple of games, where quieter players like Keller and Kessel both started to shine just a little bit more. Garland played a great physical game, this being a skill for him that continued from last season. Antti Raanta, who was in the net for game two, looked much more like he did in 2018-19 in this game for the Arizona Coyotes.
Lawson Crouse was a physical necessity when Arizona started to slump a bit and he and the fourth line were able to start some sort of energy. Johan Larsson, who was traded from the Sabres this offseason, made a huge impression with a physically-strong play where Sharks players would be pressured when he was on the ice.
Their next series will be against the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be a much tougher opponent for the Coyotes. Their next goal would be to build on their success that they were able to form against the Sharks and try to quench the bad habits they experienced in the first two games. One huge issue to focus on is their trouble to rebound after the other team scores the first goal.