The Biggest Surprises of the Phoenix Coyotes' Start to the 2013-14 Season
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Two weeks a season does not make.
If the opening fortnight of the season means anything for the Phoenix Coyotes, this could portend a competitive year.
After 10 games, the Coyotes are 6-2-2 and are equal to Anaheim’s 14 points in the standings. That’s good enough for third in the Pacific Division and fifth overall in the Western Conference.
The fact that Phoenix has lost only twice in regulation in their opening 10 games may not be a surprise to the players as much as it may be to pundits.
“If we did what (coach Dave Tippett said), we know we could be in this position,” said defenseman Keith Yandle after the Coyotes’ 4-2 win Tuesday night over Calgary. “You get what you do and, at this point, no great surprises.”
Perhaps one surprise over the recent week is the elevated play of center Mike Ribeiro. With four goals over a two-game span, Ribeiro delivered what was promised.
When Ribeiro signed as a free agent this past summer, Tippett reminded listeners that Ribeiro was special. He is the kind of player which makes those around him better, Tippett said at the time.
That was evident with two goals against the Detroit Red Wings Oct. 19 and two more against the Calgary Flames Tuesday night.
"(Ribeiro) likes to have an impact on the game,” Tippett said after the Flames contest. “Right now, he thinks the game, and you can see he’s getting comfortable with this team.”
The rise of Ribeiro is credited to a more relaxed disposition.
At the start of the season, Ribeiro had a target on his back.
"We had to get him away from a stigma that he was ’the guy,’ ” Tippett pointed out.
Over the last week, Ribeiro demonstrated why the Coyotes value his skills.
“He is the kind of player that will hang around and then get noticed,” Tippett said. “He is very competitive and will make things happen.”
The fact that the Coyotes are as high as they are in the standings is perhaps the biggest surprise of the early season.
Then again, players credit the rise of special teams as a significant factor. Also, the scoring consistency of Radim Vrbata is encouraging.
With a power-play goal to open the scoring against Calgary Tuesday night, Vrbata now has two tallies with the man advantage among his five goals.
If he scores five goals in every 10-game period, Vrbata could wind up with a potential 40-goal season.
If the Coyotes’ start among Western Conference teams is strong, they could be in a position to improve. For that to happen, a few surprises are worth noting.
First, Yandle is off to a slow, offensive start. In picking up four assists in the first 10 games, Yandle has yet to score. His lack of scoring is regarded as a surprise, but he picked up two assists against the Flames.
If Yandle is lacking in scoring contribution, the same can be said for captain Shane Doan. Scratched from the Calgary game with a lower-back injury, the Phoenix captain has three points (one goal, two assists) in his first nine games. A perennial 20-goal scorer, Doan is slow out of the gate, and the Coyotes hope his lack of scoring is temporary.
Given the Coyotes’ early ascent to the top of the Pacific Division, participants point out there is only one way to continue the charge and avoid unwarranted surprises.
“The key is to be consistent,” said Ribeiro, who extended his point streak to seven games Tuesday night. “No, no surprises at this point but we are getting great play from special teams. If we are to remain competitive, special teams need to be good all the time.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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