Despite recent defensive lapses at the blue line, the Phoenix Coyotes’ defensemen remain one of the most potent scoring combinations in the league.
Yet, recent failures have pushed the offensive thrust to the back-burner.
Coming into Wednesday night’s game with the Wild, the Coyotes dropped three straight. Dissatisfied with recent play, general manager Don Maloney waived veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla and promised, in comments reported by the Arizona Republic, to “change things around.”
Defensively, the Coyotes allow goals at a rate which has Maloney and coach Dave Tippett’s attention. In 24 games prior to engaging Minnesota Wednesday night, the Coyotes have yet to record a shutout and allowed one goal in a game only three times. Opponents have scored 19 goals in the last five games and pundits like to say that defense and solid goaltending equal success.
If the defense is a growing concern, the offense, coming from the blue line, remains encouraging.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Coyotes had two of the top nine scoring defenseman. An injury earlier to Derek Morris, who was among the top goal-scoring defensemen before he missed five games from Nov. 6 to Nov. 21, prevented from his rise.
Currently, Keith Yandle, with one goal and 16 assists and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with four goals and 13 assists, represent the Coyotes’ best firepower on the blue line.
Yandle and Ekman-Larsson trail only the Blues’ combo of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester as the highest scoring defensive pair.
Coming into last Saturday’s home with Anaheim, Coyotes’ defenseman led the NHL with 19 goals and Michael Stone, with seven tallies, tied for the league lead.
From the Coyotes’ standpoint, there’s a clear reason for the offensive surge.
“We know we have to shoot more and that creates more scoring chances,” said Ekman-Larsson just before the Coyotes started their current two game road trip. “So, we’re shooting more. It’s basically that simple.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for increased production is an effective power play.
Mired near the bottom of the NHL last season, the Coyotes’ power play, under new assistant coach Newell Brown, has come alive. His emphasis on shooting from the blue line remains a testament to the use and utility of defensemen in the overall strategy.
“Newell added a missing dimension, but there is also a great deal of talent on the blue line,” Tippett said recently. “Besides Yandle and Ekman-Larsson, people like Stone, David Rundblad, Morris, David Schlemko all give us a push.”
With the departure of Klesla, Maloney and Tippett are likely to stress more defense than offense from the blue line. Among the options is to have Stone play back closer to the blue line and not get involved as much in the offensive game.
Another option is to recall Connor Murphy from Portland of the American Hockey League.
Murphy, a 20-year-old, was recalled earlier this month and picked up his first NHL goal against Tampa Bay. Despite his age, Murphy is considered an intelligent player who recognizes the need of defense over offense from his position.
Still, the Coyotes will continue to fire the puck from the blue line.
With Yandle and Ekman-Larsson emerging as elite defenseman in the league, their penchant for scoring and controlling the puck remains an asset which should not be compromised.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.