With the annual Tucson gem show in town and the TCC unavailable, the Tucson Roadrunners are now heading into a season-long three week, six-game road trip. Despite dropping two straight against Colorado last weekend, one regulation and one overtime loss, Tucson is still in a playoff spot.
Just remaining in a playoff spot this year has been a tremendous accomplishment for the team, given how many NHL call-ups the Roadrunners have had to deal with. As of the writing of this article, Tucson’s NHL parent club, the Arizona Coyotes have seven players listed on their injured reserve.
To fill the void, the Coyotes have had to pick up players off of waivers and have been calling up more players from Tucson to the NHL than in either of the Roadrunners previous two seasons in Tucson. Just in 2019, seven Tucson Roadrunners have spent time on the NHL roster, including Kyle Capobianco, Mario Kempe and Conor Garland who are currently with the Coyotes.
As a result, the Roadrunners have had to replace some of their best players with many call-ups from the ECHL and have had to sign players mid-season. Not knowing what their lineup will look like on any given night is a big reason why Tucson is 4-5-1-0 in their past ten games and winless in their past four games.
Despite their recent slump, Tucson is still in a playoff spot, holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. However, success during their upcoming road trip is vital if the Roadrunners want to remain in a playoff spot.
The four games against Central Division opponents, Rockford and Texas, are very winnable. Neither team is in a playoff spot, as Rockford and Texas are in fifth and sixth place respectively in the eight-team Central Division. Tucson also swept their two-game home series against Texas last month and split a two-game series with Rockford back in October.
The Roadrunners’ two games against San Diego and San Jose, are also crucial because both teams are currently ahead of Tucson in the standings, and because of how tight the Pacific Division standings are right now.
If Tucson earns at least 9 out of possible 12 points during the road trip, their points percentage will improve to 0.625, putting Tucson in a tie for second in the division assuming that Bakersfield continues earning points at the same pace they have all season long.
However, if Tucson only wins one game on the trip, earning just 2 points, their points percentage will drop to 0.552, allowing Colorado to pass Tucson in the standings, assuming Colorado continues earning points at the same pace they have all season long.
Ultimately, the outcome of the upcoming road trip will help set the tone for the rest of the season. If Tucson plays well, they will restore their place near the top of the division’s standings and greatly increase their chances of earning home ice advantage for a second straight year in the playoffs. If Tucson plays poorly, earning a playoff berth will be questionable and home-ice advantage will be a long-shot.