Monday, 4 January 2010

Back From The Dead

It's hard to tell what the difference is between this season and last season when looking at the Phoenix Coyotes' records. The Coyotes literally faded down the stretch into another missed playoff summer, and there were questions about heart and effort every night in the second half of the season. And then the summer months were filled with promises of moving to Southern Ontario, a legend's dismissal from the team, and the NHL finally gaining control to keep the Coyotes in the desert. And while everyone thought that the turmoil that the team went through would be a distraction, quite the opposite has happened in Phoenix.

The first major difference in how this team is playing is entirely due to the man behind the bench. Dave Tippett, Wayne Gretzky's replacement as coach, has his team playing with a renewed sense of dedication and effort, and it's paying off in spades as his team sits fourth in the Western Conference. Little things like races to the puck and hustling back to catch a check are being done with regularity now. These are things that this franchise hasn't seen in some time.

Secondly, the Coyotes are getting scoring from all sorts of players. They currently have nine players with 19-or-more points thus far this season, including three defencemen. Shane Doan leads the way with 26 points, but Radim Vrbata and Keith Yandle have made a huge impact on this team with their contributions.

Their defence has been outstanding, and their goaltending had been red-hot. Ilya Bryzgalov has shouldered a large load of the games, playing in 37 games thus far. However, his 22-11-4 record combined with a stingy 2.03 GAA, five shutouts, and .927 save percentage show how good the Coyotes have been in their own zone. Only seven of the 26 players the Coyotes have suited up this season have a minus value for their plus/minus. Phoenix doesn't score a ton of goals, but they do prevent them. They have only allowed 96 goals this season - the fourth-lowest total in the NHL.

Overall, this team is playing like a very different team than the one that Gretzky led into the second half last season. Tippett prepares his players very well, and has been successful in this league for a very long time. He knows what goes into preparing a team every night, and his team has responded with their best showing in a long, long time.

As long as the fans keep showing up, this franchise may be successful yet. And that's a credit to the players, coaches, and management for recognizing that good hockey brings fans to the rink.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

mtjaws said...

I am enjoying seeing the Coyotes get better this year. The whole bankruptcy thing was the former owner's fault, and didn't help the team. But on-ice, the players are responding to the new coach and getting things done. Then, with those wins, the attendance is starting to grow too, just like the NHL said would happen.

I know they aren't a true contender yet, but finishing this season well will lead to a real offseason where they can improve even more. And sell more season tickets too. Awarding them next year's All-Star Game should help that cause too.