There is not a lot of time to make up ground and too few games to endure a long losing streak if a team still hopes to make the 2013 NHL Playoffs. Division games become absolutely crucial to your success.
For the Phoenix Coyotes, you can break the season down into five important segments in which they must either survive or thrive. If they can take care of these five critical segments of their schedule, then look for the Coyotes to make it back to the dance this season.
1. Start of the Season—The Coyotes did not receive any favors from the scheduling committee when it came to a easy start. The Coyotes' first seven games of the season run from Jan. 19-30, and they will have to deal with several dangerous teams out of the gate. The Coyotes open up with a much-improved Dallas Stars team on the road and follow it up with home dates against the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. Then it gets really difficult. The Yotes go to San Jose and then welcome the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, the gritty Nashville Predators and the young and dynamic Edmonton Oilers to Jobing.com Arena to close out the month. If the Coyotes can get out of the opening month with 10-15 points, then it will be a good start.
2. Opening Home Stand—This overlaps the previous period as three of the games come at the end of January. The Coyotes' games against the Kings, Predators and Oilers precede a quick road trip to Dallas. After that, the Yotes come back home for three more: Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks. This is a stretch of six out of seven games at home that the Coyotes must thrive in. They must capture points at home and this early home stretch will test them.
3. Mid-Season Home Stand—They'll see another stretch of six out of seven home games. The Wild kick it off and then the Coyotes play the Anaheim Ducks three times in a row, two of which are in Phoenix. This will be a chance to see some bad blood erupt between the two Pacific Division rivals. The Coyotes finish the home stand by welcoming the St. Louis Blues, the Stars and then the Kings again. This is another home stand that the Coyotes have to play well if they hope to make the NHL Playoffs. Five divisional games in a seven-game stretch could make or break their season.
4. Road Warriors—The stretch from March 14-30 might be the toughest stretch of games the Coyotes play all season as seven of the nine games are on the road. The Coyotes open the trip in St. Louis before travelling to Columbus and then to L.A. for back-to-back road games against the Kings. The Coyotes come home for two games, although those games are very difficult contests against the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings. The Desert Dogs then head to Minnesota, followed by trips to Nashville and San Jose. That's nine games in 16 days against some of the toughest competition the league has to offer. The Yotes must keep their heads above water during this brutal stretch, but if they play well at home early on in the season, they may be able to build themselves some cushion in case this trip turns into a nightmare.
5. Last Major Road Trip—The Coyotes swing through Western Canada beginning April 8th and finish in the Midwestern United States on April 22nd. They play six of seven on the road during this stretch and hope to be able to secure some points during this important roadie. They open in Vancouver and then travel to Alberta for their double-dip against the Oilers and the Calgary Flames. A brief trip home to play the Sharks is followed by three games in the heartland against the Blues, Blackhawks and Red Wings. This seven-game run is, without a doubt, going to be nasty, and the Yotes will have to muster all that they have to try to gather some wins from this last long road trip.
Looking at their schedule, I would like to know who in the Yotes' front office angered someone from the NHL's scheduling department. It is not easy. In fact, it borders on ridiculous, specifically with the two toughest road trips of their season at the end of the season. Avoiding injuries and rotating players with back-to-back games will be two very important factors as the shortened season wears on. I'm glad the Coyotes have one of the best coaches in the game in Dave Tippett to shepherd them through this difficult schedule.