Coming into Monday night’s home game with Minnesota, the Phoenix Coyotes were out of the playoff picture.
For the Coyotes to climb back into contention and seriously challenge for Pacific Division honors, this team needs to string together consecutive wins.
In their first nine games, the Coyotes have failed to win consecutive games. While not losing in regulation time over their previous three games, they managed only three wins in the opening weeks of the season.
Against Minnesota, the Coyotes put together their second consecutive strong outing, and in the process picked up their first back-to-back wins of the season. In stopping the Wild 2-1 before 9,508 at Jobing.com Arena, Phoenix appeared to exorcize the demons of the previous weeks.
Last Saturday night, they shut out Dallas at home.
In capturing the 2011-12 Pacific title, Phoenix won its final five games to capture their first division crown. During the season, the Coyotes also put together consecutive winning streaks eight times. That included one winning streak of six games, three winning steaks of five games, one winning streak of three games and three winning streaks of two games.
For the month of February, the Coyotes won 11 of 12 games—and the game they did not win was a 2-1 shootout loss in Vancouver.
After a slow and challenged start to the lockout-shortened season, the Coyotes’ discipline has increased and their puck management has become more evident.
“The first two or three games felt like exhibition games,” said goalie Mike Smith, who turned away 21 of 22 Minnesota shots to raise his season mark to 2-2-1. “I know those games count but we were coming over the long layoff. The more you play, the more comfortable you become. Right now, I’m feeling good and holding my own.”
In the end, the Coyotes survived a series of giveaways to the Wild, and strong efforts from five defensemen clearly carried play. That’s because defenseman David Schlemko went down midway through the opening period. Skating weakly to the Phoenix bench, Schlemko was hunched over and clutching his right shoulder.
After the game, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett called the injury “significant,” and indicated Schlemko is not day-to-day.
In his stead, Tippett was forced to go with five defensemen and praised their effort.
“All five gave us big minutes and really stepped up in the final period,” the coach pointed out. “Over the last few games, the work ethic, just not from the defensemen, has been very strong.”
While the Coyotes have scored four goals in their last two games, that total was enough to string together two straight wins. In turn, Smith allowed one goal over his last 120 minutes of play, and told reporters he’s getting his mojo back.
“The way we played over the last two games says a lot about the character of this team,” he said. “This is how we want to play and this is the kind of effort we’ll need to get back to the playoffs. We’re finding ways to get the job done.”
The Coyotes reached the Western Conference Final last spring by playing disciplined hockey. In the first weeks of the current season, the defense was sloppy and played marginal hockey.
With consecutive wins over Dallas and Minnesota in their last two contests, the Coyotes appear to have righted their ship.
“Over the last few games, we found it,” said forward Lauri Korpikoski, who put the Coyotes in front when he tipped in a shot late in the first period. “For the first few weeks, we struggled and had many turnovers. Now we’re playing on a regular basis and we’re coming together as a team.”
For the Coyotes to survive in the challenging Western Conference, the discipline and work ethic must continue at a high level.
In the Game
Midway through the second period, the Wild’s Zach Parise fired a wrist shot in behind Smith for his 200th career NHL goal in his 511th game.
For the season, Parise has 10 points in his first nine games with Minnesota. In the recent offseason, Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Wild.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.