As the NHL season approaches its stretch drive, discipline and verve become just as important as actual physical skills.
That mentality is no different for the Phoenix Coyotes, a team in search for its second straight playoff apparence.
Within the last week, the Coyotes have demonstrated a range of possibilities, capabilities and agony. Following a weak 6-0 loss to Vancouver Feb. 2, and defeat which constituted a fifth straight loss on home ice, Phoenix rebounded. Two nights later, the Coyotes traveled deep into the streets of Victorian England to pull their Jeykll and Hyde routine.
Behind goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's 20th career shutout, Phoenix whitewashed visiting Minnesota 1-0 on Feb. 5, and two nights later, the 30-year-old native of Togliatti, Russia shut out Colorado 3-0. That was the first time Bryzgalov turned in back-to-back shutouts in the regular season.
After the Avs shutout, he adroitly reminded a reporter he had three straight shutouts in Stanley Cup play. That was in the 2006 playoffs with Anaheim, and two consecutive shutouts were the first by a rookie goalkeeper in the playoffs since 1945.
"Right now, we're limiting mistakes," Bryzgalov said after the Colorado game. "Teams now will have to earn goals because we're playing team defense-style hockey. Every game is very important, so we have to play smart."
After falling on their collective faces after the Vancouver debacle, captain Shane Doan held a players-only meeting, and read the riot act. Since, the Coyotes have not allowed a goal and stand, on Feb. 8, one point behind Pacific Division-leading Dallas.
"We finding ways to win, and that's they way it has to be each night," Doan said after the Avs game. "We need to keep an even keel. We can't be too high, and we can't get too low. (After the Vancouver game), players in here thought we could be better."
The result is a changed spirit toward the positive, but an attitude which needs to be long-lasting. To maintain that mentality, the Coyotes must to put on the blinders, and grind out a 60 minute effort each game.
"We constantly have to evaluate ourselves," Tippett said after the Avs game. "[The playoff race] will be a dog fight, and we have to keep building. Yes, Bryzgalov played well the last two games. Goalkeepers have to make hard saves each night, and he's doing that for us right now."
The shutout against Colorado was the fifth of the season for Bryzgalov, and the 21st of his NHL career. His career high for shutouts is eight for a single season, and that was recorded last season.
Against Colorado, Radim Vrbata scored a pair, and marked the first time since opening night against the Bruins in his home country of the Czech Republic that he scored two in a game.
Ray Whitney picked up a pair of assists against the Avs, and that was his first multi-point game since Jan. 15 against Anaheim (2 goals, 1 assist). Through games of Feb. 7, his 29 assists is second on the team behind Keith Yandle's 36.
After a key match in Dallas Feb. 9, the Coyotes return home to play two of the elite teams. The defending Stanley Cup champions Blackhawks visit Sat. Feb. 12, and two night later, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals skate into Jobing.com Arena.