What's Causing the Phoenix Coyotes' Historically Hot Start in 2013-14?

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What's Causing the Phoenix Coyotes' Historically Hot Start in 2013-14?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Improved play of Antoine Vermette (50) is one reason why the Coyotes are off to a fast start.

Good teams tend to capitalize on mistakes.

Right now, the Phoenix Coyotes are regarded as a good team and playing strong hockey. As such, they are able to triumph in difficult times.

There’s no secret why this team is off to its best start since the 2000-2001 season. Simply put, said captain Shane Doan, “we’re a pretty good team.”

One look at the standings tells a formidable story.

Coming into play Monday, the Coyotes are 10-3-2 in 15 games. That’s good for 22 points and right behind Western Conference-leader Colorado with 24. Just ahead are San Jose (23), whom the Coyotes beat in a shoot-out Saturday, and Anaheim, also with 23 points.

Integral parts are in place for success. From a personnel vantage, general manager Don Maloney added center Mike Ribeiro, a key element, in the recent offseason. Plus, there’s the factor of ownership.

Wandering about the desert landscape like nomads the past four years, the Coyotes were like a ship without a rudder. Owned by the NHL, operating under a limited budget and playing before sparse home crowds, the Coyotes fielded more questions about their future off the ice than hockey games.

When George Gosbee and IceArizona bought the team this past summer, the environment dramatically changed.

Players came to work with smiles on their faces and several signed long-term contracts. The result was a relaxed atmosphere and a place where maladies of the past were shoved into the rear-view mirror.

Now, the Coyotes can get down to playing hockey with a real purpose.

At the beginning of the 2000-01 season, Phoenix was 9-1-5. After Saturday’s shootout victory at San Jose, the Coyotes have lost only at the New York Islanders, San Jose and Los Angeles in their first 15 games.

“We believe in ourselves,” said defenseman Derek Morris, after the Coyotes defeated Nashville to win a shootout last Thursday night over Nashville. “We have a great deal of depth and guys are stepping forward. We play well together and have a solid corps of defensemen. Plus, the forwards are doing an excellent job of forechecking.”

When Doan said “we’re a pretty good team,” he took a moment to elaborate.

“The younger players have stepped up and that’s been a big factor,” the Phoenix captain said. “The defense has put us in a good position to do positive things and several parts are coming together. We picked up Ribeiro, who makes everyone around him better, and the defenseman are one of the better units in the league.”

Smiles all around.

Yet, the definitive factor is permanent ownership.

With IceArizona in place, the marketing process began. Corporate suites are now populated, and a parking fee is helping the bottom line. While reasons off the ice are stabilizing the franchise, a heightened effort appears to translate to wins on the ice.

“I think deep down there is an appreciation for stability and ownership here,” said coach Dave Tippett after the Nashville victory. “Also, we’re hanging around in all the games. We’ve been able to score key goals and get ourselves back into games. We’re finding ways to win and I wish I could tell you more and give some reasons. Right now, I can’t”

While good teams capitalize on mistakes, the Coyotes’ win over Nashville could provide a strong example.

Down 3-0 early in the second period, Phoenix rookie Jordan Szwarz’s shot from the left point slid under the glove of Carter Hutton, the Predators goalie, and into the net for his first NHL goal. That “soft goal” created a needed spark in the Coyotes’ eventual shootout win.

Teams usually pay for costly mistakes, and the Coyotes, these days, show how talent and resiliency are two important factors in driving a winning squad.

 

Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

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