December 13, 2009
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For anyone in the northeast right now it is a cold and dreary day. But if you are a fan of the Phoenix Coyotes no weather can rain on this parade.
Where to start? On the ice the Coyotes are playing great hockey. Sitting in the six spot in the Western Conference Phoenix is one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten games winning six of their last seven. The one game they did not win was a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Six of the wins include last night's 2-1 win over San Jose as well as wins over Minnesota, Calgary, and Dallas.
What has been the key to their success? There are alot of things going right for Phoenix right now but, for me, it comes down to two specific areas:
One of the best goalies in the NHL so far this season, Ilya Bryzgalov is showing how good he can be. When general manager Don Maloney plucked Bryzgalov off the waiver wire two seasons ago, he was hoping that Ilya could become a solid starting goalie. The good humored Russian has been one of the best goalies in the league this season with a .928 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average which is second only to Buffalo's Ryan Miller. With timely saves and a solid team in front of him "Breezy" is a very big reason of why the Coyotes are where they are right now.
If you go back and look at some of the articles that I have written in the past, I always said that this team could be much better if Wayne Gretzky was not the head coach and some changes were made to the coaching staff. Right now it looks like that is partly true. Dave Tippett has come in and completely changed the way this team believes. They have turned into a hard working, physical team that relies on a "pack" mentality, believing they can do anything as a team. A sense of constant improvement and accountability has been built with everyone doing their part to get this team forward. Yet there are men behind Tippett who are making a huge difference as well.
Long time hockey man Dave King has brought a calming and experienced presence to the Coyotes roster. This is one thing that has been absent from the Phoenix organization for a very long time. Having coached in the NHL, Russia, and in other places around the world King brings an invaluable wealth of knowledge that will have a long term effect on the success of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The other assistant coach who has played a large role in the high success of the Desert Dogs is the new goaltending coach, Sean Burke. The former Hartford Whalers goaltender has taken over for Grant Fuhr, who was the most useless coach in the organization. Having been a big time goaltender, both physically and on the stat sheet, Burke knows how to handle the pressure of being relied on. He was a main cog for Hartford, Phoenix, and other teams in the NHL for years and knows the pressures that come with it. Having been very technically sound during his career, Burke is helping Ilya Bryzgalov with his positioning and the stress of being a number one goaltender in the NHL.
If you throw in the defensive play of the blue-liners, you have a very formidable team. The one aspect of the team that needs to pick up is the scoring. No one has ten goals with Radim Vrbata and Scottie Upshall tied for the team lead at nine goals apiece. While the team is playing sound defense and have hot goaltending, scoring will need to increase at some point.
The other news that Coyotes fans can smile about comes off the ice as the ownership situation finally seems to be coming to conclusion. The Ice Edge group, which showed interest during the court proceedings over the summer has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Coyotes. The NHL signed a letter of intent to sell just a day later and the Board of Governors will vote on the issue at next week's meeting in Pebble Beach, California.
The key points here are that there is no "out" clause, meaning this group believes the franchise can be resurrected financially. They knew they could not be taken seriously by the fans of the Coyotes if there was one of these clauses present. Ice Edge is also assuming the lease agreement length, which has 26 years left on it. Despite the length, I am sure Ice Edge and the city of Glendale will have adjustments made to the lease to make it a bit more appealing to the new ownership. While it will take the sale, if approved, about two to three months to go through, it seems the end of this long saga has finally come.
What could this new ownership group do? The most obvious thing is provide general manager Don Maloney with more money to spend on improving the on-ice team. Phoenix could use some scoring help. With a solid ownership group, coaching staff, and team it finally looks like Coyotes fans can start holding their heads high.
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