Phoenix Coyotes Take Aim On Western Conference Lead

Mark BrownContributor INovember 24, 2010

Ilya Bryzgalov recorded his first shutout of the season against the Oilers Nov. 23
Ilya Bryzgalov recorded his first shutout of the season against the Oilers Nov. 23Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The streak continues.

Having not lost in regulation time in three weeks, the Phoenix Coyotes are quietly rising to the top of the NHL.  At this point in the season, the Coyotes are not to be confused with the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers or Detroit Red Wings. These teams are currently possess the best records in the league but, surprise, the Coyotes are not far behind.

As a result of their 5-0 shutout over the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night before 9,354 at the Jobing.Com Arena, the Coyotes pushed their unbeaten streak to nine games. That includes two overtime losses, which are not recorded in the NHL's win-loss column. Their last defeat was Nov. 5 at Dallas.

The Coyotes won six in a row last season (March 14, 2010-March 21, 2010).

The victory put the Coyotes into first place in the Pacific Division, one standing point ahead of Los Angeles. Their 27 points is also one behind Western Conference-leading Detroit.

"Right now, we're getting contributions from everyone," said Lee Stempniak, who chipped in with two goals and an assist. "Also, we're playing well defensively. That enables us to generate more offensive chances, and we're taking advantage of those chances."

Defense and goaltending usually win in this league, and the Coyotes' current streak clearly supports this theory. Plus, the first period against Edmonton on Nov. 23 displayed some of the reasons for this run.

After Martin Hanzal converted a Ray Whitney pass into his fifth of the season just 48 seconds into the game, the Coyotes proceeded to tilt the rink. Displaying strong fore-checking and limiting the Oilers to few scoring chances, the Coyotes proceeded to outshot Edmonton 16-4 in the opening frame.

The 16 shots in the period was two short of a season-high, and that was 18 in the third period against Carolina Oct. 23.

In stopping 23 shots, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov recorded his first shutout of the season and the 17th of his NHL career. The whitewash was his 15th in a Phoenix sweater.

"The defense played well in front of me, and (Edmonton) did not get any good scoring chances," Bryzgalov said. "The goal we scored early was important, and we were off to a good start. The (standing) points are very important, and, right now, the standings are very tight.

While coach Dave Tippett characterized the Coyotes' scoring as "by committee," as several players appear to have awaken from a month of slumber.

When Wojtek Wolski beat the Oilers' Devan Dubnyk at 2:00 of the second period for his fourth of the season, that represented his third goal in his last four games. Plus, Whitney's assist on Hanzal's first-period goal was Whitney's 10th point his last six games.

By the final buzzer, both Hanzel and Stempniak pumped in two, and Wolski (goal, assist) and defenseman David Schlemko (two assists) each turned in a two-point game.

"We're turning into a team in every sense of the word," Tippett said afterward. "We're finding ways to win, and finding ways to win in tough buildings. Not many teams go into western Canada and sweep."

Which is what the Coyotes did in winning at Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver on their recent road trip.


Ice Chips

Winning their seventh straight,  the Coyotes tied St. Louis for the longest winning streak of the season.

The Blues won seven in a row from Oct. 22 to Nov. 7... Scottie Upshall played in his 300th NHL game... Oilers' coach Tom Renney was candid in his team's effort against the Coyotes.

"The pride in the jersey was not close to where it needed to be," he said. "It was an absolute joke, a travesty."

After two days off, the Coyotes practice Friday and then entertain Anaheim this Saturday, Nov. 27.