Coyotes Rebound from Slow Start as They Seek Return to Playoffs

Michael JenkinsContributor IIIFebruary 15, 2013

Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been fantastic for the Coyotes this season
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been fantastic for the Coyotes this seasonDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Phoenix Coyotes are in contention for a playoff spot.

If you take that statement on its own, it might not be much of a surprise. But, with the way that the season had started, Coyotes fans have to be fairly pleased that the team has battled its way back in a manner that screams Coyotes hockey.

The beginning of the season was tumultuous as the Coyotes came out of the gates playing a style that had to have head coach Dave Tippett scratching his head.

The goals were coming fast and furious and the Desert Dogs were averaging close to four goals a game. However, the defense was atrocious and the team began to lose the identity that made it so successful last season.

When Phoenix began the season by dropping games in which goals were scored like they were going out of style, some fans began to question where the brand of hockey was that led the Coyotes to the Western Conference finals last season.

The physical, high-pressure, defensive style was nowhere to be found and the results were not pretty.

The low point early in the season was giving up a two-goal lead with less than 10 minutes to go in San Jose. Last season, the Coyotes would have at the very least escaped with a point from that game, but silly mistakes and turnovers in their own zone displayed the lack of game preparedness that was a staple of their success last season.

The recent play of the team has allowed it to recover from its early-season malaise. Phoenix has pulled eight points out of its last six games and sits in ninth position in the Western Conference as of tonight (Feb. 15).

How have the Coyotes done it? By getting back to the basics, simplifying the game and playing their style of hockey.

Certain characteristics define the Coyotes: getting pucks out of the defensive zone when necessary, outworking their opponents in the offensive zone, finishing checks on every shift, blocking shots with reckless abandon, scoring opportunistic goals and receiving lights-out goaltending from Mike Smith when they most need it.

The defense has been playing splendidly as of late, allowing two or fewer goals in five of Phoenix's last seven games.

During that stretch, goaltender Mike Smith has been superb, pitching two shutouts and winning two overtime games. He has been the rock that the Coyotes were counting on ever since he came back from injury.

The offense has been what is expected of a Tippett-coached hockey team. The players work hard, have multiple lines that are scoring and all play with the desire and determination necessary to score ugly goals at opportune times.

As they have improved their play, more breaks have gone the Coyotes' way and they continue to put points together in consecutive games, which has been much-needed.

The 'Yotes might not necessarily be where they wish in the standings, but they should be pretty happy with the way they have been playing lately and the optimism of the squad can now be seen on their faces as they lace them up on a nightly basis.