Perhaps this is the section of the season for which the Phoenix Coyotes have waited.
Though coach Dave Tippett continues to call his team "a work in progress," the Coyotes have put together a modest streak, and are gaining important points in the standings. Improved play over the past few weeks could foreshadow a turning point in the team's fortunes.
Given the success of last season, great expectations continue to surround this team, and considering the recent past, there appears little reason to doubt.
What remains startling is that the Coyotes are among a handful of teams with five or fewer losses. This is a team that has lost only five games through Nov. 20, and gone undefeated in its last seven games. The Coyotes' last defeat was Nov. 5, a 6-3 loss at Dallas.
Since then Phoenix has dropped two in overtime, but the NHL awards one point for reaching overtime, and no defeat in the loss column.
Yet, one faulty aspect of the team's play has not eluded coach Tippett.
"We need to get more consistent scoring," Tippett said after a 5-3 win over St. Louis Nov. 13, the Coyotes most recent home game. "Right now, it's scoring by committee, and some of the players need to step forward."
That seemed to be evident for Ray Whitney. Scoreless through the first month of the season, Whitney, an 18 year NHL veteran with previous stops in San Jose, Edmonton, Florida, Columbus, Detroit and Carolina, responded with his fourth career "hat trick" and six points against the Blues, and added three assists in the shootout win over the Oilers.
That output complemented Wojtek Wolski's second goal of the season against the Blues. Whitney also set up Wolski's tying goal at Edmonton Nov. 19 with a few seconds left, sending the teams into overtime.
"I've been through tough times and droughts before," Whitney said. "I was set back with a hand injury the first month of the season, and did the best I could do. Now, I'm starting to get some bounces."
Quietly, the Coyotes continue to rise through the NHL's Western Conference and their five losses, through Nov. 20, remains a mark of their determination to better last season. This was a team that lost in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last April, and has vowed to press deeper in the post-season this time around.
After concluding a three game road trip through western Canada at Vancouver Nov. 21, the Coyotes return home for games against the Oilers and Ducks. That commences a stretch of five games in their next eight contests at Jobing.Com Arena.
The home game against Edmonton Nov. 23 will be Scottie Upshall's 300th game in his NHL career.
Tippett remains second among active coaches in wins. Only Mike Babcock, with Anaheim and Detroit, has won more behind the bench.