Theories abound and the Phoenix Coyotes find themselves in the middle of the debate.
Right now, the Coyotes are in the heart of six consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents. If history of the first two months of the season is to repeat, the Coyotes can look into their crystal ball and reap the rewards.
Over the opening two months, Western Conference teams have dominated Eastern teams, and the Coyotes’ record reflects that trend.
Despite a 3-1 defeat to Carolina at home last Saturday, the Coyotes enter a four game swing to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo with an 8-2-1 mark against the East. Through games of Dec. 13, the West dominated Eastern clubs with a 118-51-20 record.
Defeating the New York Islanders on Dec. 12 at home but dropping Saturday’s game with the Hurricanes, Phoenix enters play Monday in ninth place among Western Conference teams, two points behind Colorado and Minnesota and 12 points behind conference-leading Chicago.
Beating Eastern teams directly ahead on the schedule is imperative.
“Hard to say why the West is beating the East,” coach Dave Tippett said just before the Coyotes embarked for Montreal. “Some of the Western teams, like Colorado, Chicago, got off to great starts but it's hard to put a finger on it.”
Yet, one theory seems plausible.
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith thinks the current Western Conference advantage is cyclical.
“Maybe Eastern teams are not playing up their capabilities,” he said. “These things run in cycles. For this year, the West is beating the East and who knows, maybe next year, or even later this season, the East could win. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
In their 11 games to date among Eastern teams, the Coyotes lost only to the Islanders on Oct. 8 and the Hurricanes last Saturday.
Now, they run into the Canadiens, Leafs and Senators within a five day period. In the Eastern Conference standings, Toronto and Montreal are among the top seven teams and Ottawa and Buffalo are below. With the worst record in the NHL, the Sabres’ turmoil is well-known and the Coyotes are aware.
Still, Tippett and his players regard the task ahead as challenging and the attempt to play a strong, road game in a hostile building remains a severe test.
“Your play will dictate where you finish,” Tippett added. “Just to play ‘all right’ doesn’t cut it. We need to be on the top of our game and that includes all facets. That’s our focus on the trip and you have to earn points.”
Phoenix captain Shane Doan did not join his teammates on the flight to Montreal on Monday morning.
Sidelined with an undisclosed illness, Doan met with the Phoenix media between periods of the Carolina game Saturday night and indicated his desire to get back on the ice.
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said Doan’s physical condition is weakened by fatigue and would not issue a timetable for the captain’s return. Tippett left open the possibility that Doan could join the team during the current four-game road trip. This set of games ends next Monday Dec. 23 in Buffalo.
Elsewhere, forward Lauri Korpikoski, who missed the Coyotes’ previous 11 games, last played Nov. 16 at home against Tampa Bay. Tippett indicated Korpikoski is on the road trip and could return in any of the four games against Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images