Coyotes coach Dave Tippett rallying the boys as they seek to continue their rise up the standings
So far this season, the Coyotes are 8-6-3 for 19 points. That leaves them tied for 6th in the Western Conference, but only one point away from being in 9th place and out of the playoff picture.
The 'Yotes are hot as of late. They are 6-2-2 in their last ten games. They have been good at home, posting a 6-3-1 record and have been less than stellar on the road, amassing a 2-3-2 record away from Jobing.com Arena.
They stand 16th in the league in goals per game (2.6) and 12th in the league in goals scored against (2.5). The Desert Dogs special teams have been average. The rank 18th in the league on the power play (16.9%) and 10th on the penalty kill (83.6%)
With a road trip that could prove pivotal for the 'Yotes looming, it is time to take a gauge of how the team is performing after a third of the way through this shortened season by looking at each position individually and seeing how they are producing after 17 games.
Martin Hanzal needs to stay healthy for the Coyotes to make a run this season
The center position is performing as expected. Two of the centers, Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal are expected to contribute points, and the other two centers, Boyd Gordon and Kyle Chipchura, play more specialized roles.
Hanzal has been a pleasant surprise when he has played. He has suffered some nagging injuries and has missed five games already. He has 10 points in 12 games though, chipping in seven goals along the way making him the team's leading goal scorer.
Vermette has been steady, scoring eight points in all 17 games played. He needs to boost his offensive production as he is getting major minutes (18:35 a game) and is expected to be amongst the leading scorers on the team.
Gordon is the team's best faceoff man and the team's best penalty killer. His five assists this season are a bonus as his job is to win crucial faceoffs and serve as a defensive forward against the other team's best lines.
Chipchura is the fourth-line checking center. He plays a very physical role for the squad. Chipchura leads the team in penalty minutes, many of those for fighting as he tries to give his team a spark or needs to protect his players. He is not a fighter by trade, but plays the role well and that has impressed me. His five points are also a bonus, and he has good hands for a fourth line center.
Radim Vrbata is going to have to start scoring more goals to allow the Coyotes to repeat as Pacific Division champs
The right wing position is the position the Coyotes are getting the most production from. Five players will be listed here as Matthew Lombardi plays both center and right wing.
Radim Vrbata is having a decent season by his lofty standards. He has scored four goals and eight assists for 12 points in 15 games. He recently suffered a lower body injury, and any length of time he has to miss will really hurt the Coyotes. He has been really good on the power play, leading the team with seven points on the man advantage.
Mikkel Boedker has played fairly well early this season. He has amassed three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 17 games. His speed has always been his greatest asset, but this year he is playing more physical as he looks to play a complete game. His plus four rating is the best among all forwards on the team and his six power play points make him second behind Vrbata with the man advantage.
Captain Shane Doan endured a tough beginning to the season when it comes to point scoring but has picked up his production as of late. He has four goals and four assists for eight points in 17 games this season. He has no points on the power play which has to improve for the Coyotes to be lethal in that area. His physical play and leadership have put the Coyotes in good position after the first third of the season to make the NHL Playoffs again this year.
Matthew Lombardi is a versatile forward who can play all three forward positions. He has missed a considerable amount of time with an injury this season, but recently returned against Edmonton last night. His quickness and agility are his main attributes and his accuracy with his wrist shot tends to be underrated. He has only played in five games this season, but has scored one goal and collected two assists for three points in those five games. His scoring will be critical down the stretch if the Coyotes are going to have much success.
Nick Johnson has been a pleasant surprise. Sent down to the AHL before the season started, Johnson was called up after the rash of injuries that hit the squad. He has not disappointed. He has scored three goals and two assists for five points in 11 games this season in limited minutes. He plays physical, is not afraid to mix it up and has the ability to put the puck in the back of the net. He has been the offensive surprise of the season so far for the Desert Dogs.
Raffi Torres energy sparks the team and the crowd on any given night
The left wing position has been the least productive offensive position this season. They will need to pick up their play to help contribute to the Coyotes this season.
David Moss has been a bit of a surprise as well. The free-agent acquisition from Calgary has scored two goals and collected six assists for eight points in 17 games. His plus three rating is impressive and he has been given opportunities to contribute on the power play. His physical stature on the ice opens up space for teammates to thrive in.
Lauri Korpikoski has also played well early in this season. He has amassed four goals and four assists for eight points in 17 games. His speed and fearlessness create space for him to operate and he cycles the puck well in the corners because of his ability to change directions quickly at full speed. His play is undervalued and he is an important component to the success of this team.
Steve Sullivan started off quick (hat trick against Columbus early in this season) and then missed some games with injury. In 14 games, Sullivan has scored four goals to go along with three assists for seven points. His vision and ability to put the puck in the net are garnering him quality minutes with the top-two lines and on the power play (four points on PP). He will have to be more defensively accountable as his minus four rating will find him getting less minutes in Dave Tippett's system if it continues.
Raffi Torres is the emotional spark plug for this team. He plays physically when necessary, he can score goals and is never afraid to mix things up. He came back from his suspension after eight games this season and has put up two goals and two assists for four points in the nine games he has played. His secondary scoring will be crucial to the team's overall success this season.
Michalek is one of the unsung heroes for the Coyotes this season
This is the unit that will determine whether or not the team will repeat last year's heroics. If they can play well in front of goaltender Mike Smith, they will limit the damage other teams can do and give the offense a fighting chance to bang home a couple of goals. They need to focus on playing Coyotes hockey: tough, physical brand that focuses on the execution of the little things to achieve overall team success.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is quickly becoming a star in this league. He is tied for the lead with Keith Yandle in points scored by a Coyotes defenseman and is tied for 12th overall in the league for points by a defenseman. He has scored three goals to go along with seven assists for 10 points in 17 games. He leads the team in plus/minus rating with a plus five. He has scored three points on the power play as he and Yandle quarterback the top power play unit.
Yandle has also been very good this season. His speed and agility help him be solid defensively but also make him a threat offensively. He has also scored 10 points, netting two goals and collecting eight assists in 17 games. The versatile defenseman has also played well in his own end of the ice as he has a plus two rating this season.
Derek Morris has played very well coming off of a year in which pundits questioned whether or not he had "it" anymore. Morris came into camp in tip-top shape and his play this season has silenced many of those pundits. He has regained the spring in his step and has returned to being a solid two-way defenseman for the franchise. He has five points on five assists this season, but his worth tends to be measured in winning those tough, physical battles on the boards in his own end.
David Schlemko has been in and out of the lineup this season, but through 17 games has proved he is the most reliable option for the Coyotes sixth defensive spot. He has collected two assists this season. but has played well as a stay-at-home defenseman for the squad.
Zybnek Michalek is the unsung hero of this team. He has been unbelievable defensively, and his shot blocking borders on the ridiculous. He throws himself with reckless abandon at the puck, all for his team to succeed. His reliable defensive play allows Ekman-Larsson to roam up ice and pick up valuable points from the blue line. This has been the acquisition of the offseason for the Coyotes as they re-acquired Michalek from the Penguins.
Rostislav Klesla is built in the same mode as Michalek. A selfless defenseman who doesn't do much flashy, but contributes greatly to the success of his team. He is physical, has a nasty streak, plays solid D and isn't afraid to sacrifice his body for the greater glory. Dave Tippett must be in love with these final two defenseman because they embody everything he stands for.
Three other Coyotes defenseman must be named: Chris Summers, David Rundblad and Michael Stone. All three have had their struggles this season. Combined, they are a total minus 12 this season. They will need to improve their defensive play if they are to get back into the lineup on a consistent basis.
Smith will have to be very good for the Coyotes to continue to vault up the standings
Mike Smith is playing better as of late. He had a really rough beginning of the season. He got scorched in his first couple of games (10 goals in first two games), got hurt, missed a substantial amount of time with his groin injury and then came back into the lineup.
He has rallied since he returned, posting a 6-4-2 record this season with a 2.49 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. His has three shutouts. The Coyotes are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, all with Smith in net.
Since February 1st, Smith's goals against average is 2.00 and his save percentage is .929. If he continues to play at this level, the Coyotes will continue to rocket up the standings.
If Smith gets hurt, the Coyotes are in big trouble. Jason LaBarbera cannot play in net over the long term. He is a capable backup goaltender who is 1-2 this season with a 2.83 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. But, he is no Mike Smith, and the Coyotes cannot hope that he will be good enough to keep them in games.