Coaches always ask their players to give “a full 60 minutes.”
Easier said than done.
On planet NHL, the burst of energy and commitment is not always there every night. With practice, travel, games, off days and morning skates, players tend to drift in and out of their energy levels. It's not that they succumb to temptation of the moment, but the ability to grind every night for a full 60 minutes tends to be compromised.
When a team is able to combine will with purpose, the results are usually encouraging.
Almost like flipping an on-off switch, the Phoenix Coyotes demonstrated the kinds of results which could only be generated through a full, 60-minute effort.
When taking on the much-improved Edmonton Oilers Nov. 5 at home, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett and his players realized they had to match the Oilers’ team speed and counter the abilities of the league’s last two first-overall draft selections.
In a bold move, Edmonton coach Tom Renney has put Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in 2010, at center and placed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first pick overall in 2011, on the left wing as linemates. Plus, Renney does not hesitate to combine the pair on the power play, and in the in final minutes of a period.
All of these moves have strengthened the Oilers to the point where Edmonton now challenges for the Northwest Division lead.
When the Oilers skated into Jobing.com Arena on Nov. 5 with their improved team speed, Tippett realized that if his team did not produce the maximum effort, and address “the 60 minute issue,” the Coyotes would not be in a position to compete.
In a spirited opening two periods, the Coyotes matched the Oilers' speed and puck movement. On goals from Daymond Langkow and Adrian Aucoin, Phoenix built a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes of play, and eventually earned a 4-2 win.
“I liked the way our guys came out and realized we had to match (Edmonton’s) energy,” Tippett said afterward. “(The Oilers) are a team that plays quick and we better play quick.”
Aside from staying with the Oilers, the Coyotes demonstrated the ability to respond.
With Phoenix up 2-0, the Oilers cut the margin in half when Nugent-Hopkins, crashing down the slot, drove in a loose puck at 9:27 of the final period. The Coyotes responded just over two minutes later, when Boyd Gordon backhanded his second of the season into the net at 11:36 for a 3-1 lead.
The Oilers’ Theo Peckham, on his first goal of the season at 13:47 of the final period, cut the difference to 3-2, but Ray Whitney hit the empty net at 19:49 and the Coyotes won for the fourth time in five games.
“We took care of business in our own end,” Aucoin said. “We matched their speed and we needed to do that. I thought the difference was better play in our end.”
Now, the Coyotes conclude a favorable home stand and face an important part of the schedule directly ahead.
Since Oct. 16, they have played eight of 10 games at home. The home stand ends Nov. 10 against Montreal at Jobing.com Arena.
Following the Canadiens’ encounter, Phoenix hits the road for its first prolonged challenge of the season. They open a five-game road trip against Pacific Division rival San Jose on Nov. 13, and then travel east with stops in Toronto, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Washington.
With the 4-2 victory over Edmonton, Tippett recorded his 100th win as coach of the Coyotes.
Since the 2002-03 season, Tippett ranks second among NHL coaches in wins. Only Detroit’s Mike Babcock has more. Prior to the Oilers’ game, Tippett had 370 wins and Babcock had 378 victories.
In the history of the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise, dating back to the 1979-80 season, Tippett is six wins away from John Paddock (106 wins) for third place on the all-time list, and is also behind Bob Francis (165), and Wayne Gretzky (143).
“I’m not much on stuff like that,” Tippett said after recording the milestone Phoenix victory. “I just like to win.”
EDITORS NOTE - The quotes in this story were obtained by the author during post-game interview Nov. 5, 2011.