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Phoenix Coyotes: 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

Michael JenkinsContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2013

Phoenix Coyotes: 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are off and running as the new season has begun. Unfortunately, they are running slow, and the track is full of obstacles, as they have gotten off to an 0-2 start after giving up 11 goals to Chicago and Dallas.

    If the Coyotes are to repeat as Pacific Division Champs and make the 2013 NHL Playoffs, there are steps they must take to accomplish such a task.

    Here are five steps they can take to avoid a slow start to this season.

Defense

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    During a lockout-shortened season, teams will succumb to sloppy play. There has been limited time for training camp and teams will have no time to adjust to the game's speed and any new teammates.

    If the Coyotes are solid in their defensive end early in the season and can capitalize on the sloppy play of other teams, they can get some easy goals, while preventing other teams from doing the same.

    After two games, the 'Yotes defense has been full of holes and their mistakes at the back are killing the team.

    Two games, 10 goals. Not what you would expect from a defensive corps as solid as this one.

    Phoenix will need to improve this immediately if it has any hope of winning games during an early schedule that is daunting.

Good Goaltending

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    If the Coyotes are going to do anything this year, they must ride goaltender Mike Smith.

    Smith was the backbone of the Pacific Division champions last year, as his play bordered on the surreal at times. While he may not have to be that good all the time, he has to be spectacular at the critical junctures of games for this Coyotes team to have success.

    Early on, Smith has not been good. He even deemed his own play "terrible" after the game against the Blackhawks on Sunday.

    10 goals in two games is no way for the Vezina Trophy candidate to start the season, and his save percentage (.825) and goals against average (5.05) are going to need to improve drastically for the Coyotes to right the ship.

Secondary Scoring

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    The Coyotes will need to have their secondary personnel produce points for them to get off to a fast start.

    In their first two games, the Coyotes have scored seven goals. David Moss, Lauri Korpikoski and Matthew Lombardi have all registered a point in the team's first two contests.

    These men must continue to produce for the 'Yotes to be successful, while Steve Sullivan and Boyd Gordon also need to chip in when they can.

    Vrbata and Doan have been consistent point producers and should not be worried about. It is the second and third-line forwards that need to produce in the neighborhood of 18-25 points a piece in a shortened season for the Desert Dogs to return to the NHL Playoffs.

Impose Their Will

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    While the games are sloppy, the Coyotes need to enforce their will on games early in the season. A deliberate style with fore-checking pressure and solid, air-tight defense is the way for this team to win games.

    They cannot be lured into up-and-down hockey with teams that want to open their defense up. While Mike Smith can be counted on to make some difficult saves, limiting opportunities and stymieing potent offenses are the Coyotes' calling card.

    One way of ensuring this is for Phoenix to be physical. The Coyotes pride themselves in playing a tough style of hockey. They have to be smart, though, as they cannot put themselves in situations where they play recklessly and give up power play opportunities.

    Boyd Gordon and Kyle Chipchura are two examples of guys who play physical but seldom play recklessly.

    Playing physical is not about applying huge open ice hits, but consistently applying pressure throughout a game and finishing checks whenever you get the opportunity. These two guys are prototypical examples of how Dave Tippett likes to construct a hockey team. They are two fourth-line forwards who play physical, but are intelligent as well.

No Injuries to Forwards

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    While the Coyotes rave about their depth on defense, their offense is not necessarily as deep.

    The addition of Matthew Lombardi added a player who can play on the second or third lines and was a quality addition by the front office.

    Still, the Coyotes cannot afford injuries early on to anyone on their top two lines if they plan on breaking their two-game skid and getting off to a quick start.

    Rotating guys who have bumps and bruises will be critical as the short season progresses. Keeping guys like Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata healthy will be essential to the team having a quality opportunity to win games.

    Players like Alex Bolduc, Andy Miele, Nick Johnson and Rob Klinkhammer will have to provide depth at the forward positions to help ease the burden of so many games in such a short time span

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