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PREDICTION: Will the Coyotes make the playoffs?

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Posted at 3:40 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 17:40:52-05

The Arizona Coyotes are in position to advance to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

But in order to get there, they'll have to fend off some tough competition from within their conference and division.

With 49 games down and 33 to go, the Coyotes have a 24-20-5 record, good for 53 points and the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division behind the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. But the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks (51 points) are right on the Yotes' heels.

Even if the Coyotes don't finish in the top three in the Pacific, they could grab one of two Western Conference Wild Card playoff spots -- but to take that route to the postseason, they'll have to surpass at least a couple of Central Division teams that currently have more points than them.

So... can these Desert Dogs advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Here are three things they must do in order to get there, starting with Tuesday night's crucial home game against the Kings.

1. Strong goaltending

With veteran goaltender Mike Smith out for an extended period with a core muscle injury, rookie Louis Domingue has stepped up in a big way. The Quebec native earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors for January after going 6-3-2 with a 2.20 goals allowed average. That kind of domination in net must continue for a Yotes team with very little margin for error.

2. Improved penalty kill

The Coyotes have to provide Domingue with better support when they have a man in the penalty box. As of Tuesday, the Yotes are the NHL's third-worst team on the penalty kill, allowing goals on 23.4 percent of opponents' power plays. Arizona's defensemen are among the league's best at scoring goals, but they must also help lift the team up defensively.

3. More consistent scoring

The Coyotes were playing their best stretch of hockey in late December-mid January, earning points in 11 of 12 games. Then, they forgot how to score: They tallied just four goals over a 10-period span in a crucial home stand, during which they managed just one point. That kind of inconsistency often plagues young teams like the Coyotes, but the team has to find a way to avoid those kinds of scoring droughts going forward.

Prediction:

I would absolutely love to see the Whiteout return to the desert, but I don't think it happens this season. This is an extremely talented young team, featuring a pair of 20-year-old future All-Stars in forwards Max Domi and Anthony DuClair. The team's first-round pick, Dylan Strome, is killing it in the minors and will be a welcome addition when he's ready to make the move to the big leagues.

This year's Coyotes can probably continue at the pace they're currently on, but the problem is the Ducks, who have finally found the offense to complement their top-notch goaltending.

My best guess is the three teams from California (Kings, Sharks and Ducks) advance out of the Pacific, and the Yotes don't accrue quite enough points to earn a Wild Card bid. 89 points, fourth place in Pacific