Will the Phoenix Coyotes Be Haunted by the Ghost of the Second Half Again?

Derek PivkoCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Phoenix Coyotes celebrates with teammates after defeating the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on December 26, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Kings 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The first half of the season has already past leaving several Phoenix Coyotes opponents shutout thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov.

The Coyotes have become a success story in the Jobing Arena where the Coyotes ended a franchise record 10-game home winning streak to start the second half of the season.

The Coyotes 16-5-1 home record is second in the Western Conference next to the Chicago Blackhawks 18-4-1 home record.

While the Coyotes have enjoyed success this season, what people might have forgotten was how dominant they were last year before a second half disaster.

On this day last year, the Coyotes had 13 home wins which was tied for second most in the Western Conference (almost identical to this season). After beating the New York Islanders last season on Jan. 2, 2009 the Coyotes would be shut out by a total of 8-0 in after losing to division rival Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks.

The Coyotes would have their first losing month in January of last season. However, it wasn’t until February when the Coyotes nose dived to the bottom of the Pacific (division) winning three out of 12 games in the month of February.

Will last season’s second half collapse haunt the Coyotes once again?

I don’t think so.

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The Coyotes changed the landscape of their team from last season as seven players put on a Coyotes jersey for the first time as well as a new Coyotes coach in Dave Tippett.

Despite the lack of media attention the Coyotes quietly set career milestones as Coyotes captain Shane Doan played in his 1,000th game for the Coyotes this season as Coyotes goaltender Ilya Brzygalov continues to lead the NHL in shutouts with five.

One of Bryzgalov’s shutouts came from last season’s NHL Stanley Cup Champions the Pittsburgh Penguins which was the first loss for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.

The Coyotes have played American style hockey this season as the Coyotes do not have a “superstar” on their team. Instead, the Coyotes have rallied as a team without a key leading scorer.

The Coyotes Scottie Upshall is the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals this season, Upshall ranks 32nd in the NHL in goals.

The second half of the season will serve as a challenge for the Coyotes. With the Winter Olympics starting in February, the Coyotes are only sending three of their players to represent their countries.

The Coyotes will rest two out of three best players in Phoenix during the Olympics as Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski were kept off Team Canada’s roster.

One gift that the Coyotes have received this season is the lack of serious injuries. The only lengthy injury the Coyotes have faced this season is with defensemen Kurt Sauer. Sauer has only played in one game this season after suffering from apparent headaches.

The Coyotes defense has played extremely well in Sauer’s absence. If the Coyotes want to continue to succeed in the second half of the season they need to continue staying healthy which isn’t easier said than done.

Last week against the Los Angeles Kings, Ed Jovanovski checked Kings forward Justin Williams in the first period. Williams left the game in a stretcher in a stretcher with a broken leg. Williams could be out for three months.

At any point this season the Coyotes could face the issue that the Kings are facing right now with losing Williams. Next to Sauer’s injury the only other lengthy injury the Coyotes faced was losing Jovanovski for eight games due to a lower-body injury which kept him out for most of November.

It should be noted that during Jovanovski’s absence the Coyotes were 3-4-1 without one of their assistant captains as the Coyotes finished November with a disappointing 6-7-1 record, their only losing month this season.

Next to staying healthy, the Coyotes need to continue building on their franchise. It has taken several seasons for the Coyotes to evolve into who they are today.

The Coyotes are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. One thing that separates the youngsters on the Coyotes is the veteran leadership of captain Shane Doan as well as NHL veterans Ed Jovanovski, Robert Lang, Adrian Aucoin, and recent signing Andres Eriksson, who are the only Coyotes on the team that are older than 30.

One Coyotes who is popular amongst trade discussion is Peter Mueller. Mueller has finally started to pick up his game recently.

In the last five games, Mueller has attributed four assists as he looks shape up his confidence after struggling earlier this season with ice time.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you if the Coyotes want to make the playoffs this season they need to continue winning games. Only the Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Anaheim Ducks have losing records in the Western Conference (all of whom the Coyotes have lost to at least once this season).

The Western Conference is very competitive this year as it wouldn’t surprise me to see teams clinching playoffs on the final game of the season. If the Coyotes can continue on what they have started this year then make room in the Western Conference because the Phoenix Coyotes are here to stay.

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