Lee Stempniak picked up his career hat trick Thursday night
For a team which attained considerable heights last season, the start has been less than auspicious.
Maybe this is too good a team to be caught in the trappings of the past. After all, here's a franchise which advanced to the NHL playoffs for the first time in seven years, and rose expectations dramatically for the current season.
The Phoenix Coyotes went off to Prague to open the season and split two games with Boston. Returning across the pond, they promptly dropped their home opener 2-1 to the Red Wings before a packed house, and then lost 3-2 the next day to the Anaheim Ducks.
From the recent past, the Coyotes have quickly learned losing is not an option, and proceeded to demonstrate why they need to start climbing the standings.
In the opening period last Thursday night, the Kings out-shot the visiting Los Angeles Kings 16-6, and Coyotes' forward Lee Stempniak scored twice in less than three minutes. That start powered the Coyotes to a 4-2 win over the Kings before 6,706 at Jobing.com Arena.
Stempniak added an empty goal at 19:25 of the final period to complete his first NHL hat trick. While the post-game discussion centered around Stempniak, defenseman Ed Jovanowski, who chipped in with three assists, put the victory in perspective.
"We need to start climbing in the standings," said Jovanowski. "That's why it was important for us to jump on them early, and stay in control. We certainly don't want to play catch-up."
Coming into Thursday's night game, the Coyotes were 15th out of 16 teams in the Western Conference. Only San Jose was lower, and collectively, the Coyotes knew this was the time.
"We had to step up," said coach Dave Tippett. "This was the time to start to get some rhythm, and [Thursday night] had to be a collective effort."
Good teams are usually flexible teams which can adjust. With captain Shane Doan serving the first game of a three-game suspension for leveling an illegal hit against the Ducks' Dan Sexton, and Martin Hanzel out for one to two weeks with a lower back injury, the combination of different players on different lines was not compromising.
Tippett started with the lines of Stempniak with Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler, Scottie Upshall with Eric Belanger and Wojtek Wolski, veteran Ray Whitney with Radim Vrbata and Kyle Turris, and Andrew Ebbett with Paul Bissonnette and Lauri Kopikoski.
Key, Tippett acknowledged, was the line of Stempniak, Pyatt and Fiddler.
"That's just a hard line and they play hard," Tippett. "That group epitomizes the identity of how we want to play as a team."
For his part, Stempniak pointed out he was just doing the task assigned. Aside from engineering the early scores, his effort to pick up the team in the absence of Doan and Hanzel was paramount.
Echoing Jovanovski, Stempniak indicated the team could not drop further.
"We're not here to play catch-up," he said. "Everyone had to step up, and help pick up the two points."
Next up, the Carolina Hurricanes on home Saturday, Oct. 23.