With most hockey talk focusing on blows to the head lately, the Phoenix Coyotes have been one of the NHL’s best-kept secrets.
With a record of 46–23–5 (97 points through 74 games), the “Desert Dogs” just saw a nine-game winning streak end at the hands of the highly-talented Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Prior to that loss, they were tied with the Blackhawks for the best record in the Western Conference.
The NHL’s elite teams usually have good goaltending and the Phoenix Coyotes are no exception.
Russian netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has played in 63 games and is one back of the New Jersey Devils’s Martin Brodeur in wins with 39.
He sits alone atop the shutout leaders list with eight and his 2.28 goals against average has him ranked fourth in the NHL.
“[We’re] really a good team, very talented, work hard, and we never give up,” Bryzgalov told Web site www.azcentral.com.
“We just believe in ourselves, believe in our season, what we are doing on the ice. At the end of the game, that pays [you] back.”
But while Bryzgalov is a star in the defensive aspect of the game, the Coyotes are taking a more balanced approach up front.
The league’s top teams, such as the Washington Capitals and aforementioned Blackhawks, have players among the top 10 scoring leaders. Phoenix doesn’t have a player in the top 10, let alone top 15, 20, 30 or even 50.
Winger Shane Doan leads the team with a mere 52-points.
But while the surprise top team of 2009–2010 doesn’t have a top-tier scorer, Phoenix has 18 players who are in the double digits and 11 that have more than 20-points.
“Some of our past teams had more high-end guys and you recognize that,” Doan told the Desert Dog blog.
“But now we’ve got a whole bunch of really solid hockey players, and that’s one through 12 up front and one through six on the blue line.”
New Coach, New Attitudes
Being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate into being a great coach. The Wayne Gretzky-led Phoenix Coyotes had a poor 36–39–7 record last season and “The Great One” stepped down this past offseason.
Former Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett took over and his experience has been beneficial for the team.
Phoenix already has set a franchise mark for most points in a season and there are still nine more games to be played.
Still, the possible Jack Adams Trophy candidate (NHL coach of the year award) isn’t about to let his team coast in neutral.
“We’ve won some games, which is great to see, but there’s no prize for anything we’ve done yet,” Tippett told www.coyotes.nhl.com.
“We have to continue to get better. There are areas where our game can improve and we want to be able to compete with the elite teams in the league.”
While being 18-points ahead of last year’s mark is amazing, the fact that the Coyotes are performing with all the distractions surrounding the team is far more of a miracle.
Before the season began, the team was embroiled in bankruptcy hearings and that led to Gretzky’s departure.
After much legal wrangling, the league took control of the franchise and has failed to find a suitable buyer to take over.
The Coyotes also rank dead last in league attendance this season, according to ESPN, averaging 11,581 people a game.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the club but management still made some notable deadline deals with the goal of a long playoff run.
In one deal, Phoenix acquired disgruntled defenseman Mathieu Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks and the change of scenery has done Schneider good.
Tippett has given the veteran more ice time, including on the power play, and Schneider has responded with three points in four games and a plus/minus of plus 4.
Lee Stempniak was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs and he has also given a lot to Tippett and team.
During the team’s current nine-game win streak, Stempniak has been a real sniper, scoring nine goals and chipping in with a pair of assists.
The Phoenix Coyotes’ future might be in doubt but their regular season success is guaranteed.