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Coyotes looking for more offense out of top forwards

Tuesday, 11.02.2010 / 10:26 AM / NHL Insider

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent

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Coyotes looking for more offense out of top forwards
One of the biggest reasons for the Phoenix Coyotes' slow start is an offense that has scored two goals or fewer six times already this season
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Veteran Ray Whitney, signed as a free agent this summer to bolster the Phoenix offense, still is looking for his first goal as a Coyote after eight games.

Wojtek Wolski, acquired last spring for the same reason, is scoreless in eight games and watched the last two as a healthy scratch. Captain Shane Doan? Seven games, no goals, one three-game suspension.

Add in Radim Vrbata, who has scored 1 goal since scoring twice in the season opener, and that's a grand total of one goal from Phoenix's four highest-paid forwards over the last nine games. That's more than $14 million of salary space -- on a team that has a tight budget -- which so far has been little more than wasted space.

"You're disappointed and you wish you could have the games back, but you can't," said Doan, who came into camp in top shape and was dominant at times in the preseason. "I can guarantee you we won't go the next 10 games with myself and the other guys not scoring, so that's a positive. We have nowhere to go but up."

"You're disappointed and you wish you could have the games back, but you can't. I can guarantee you we won't go the next 10 games with myself and the other guys not scoring, so that's a positive. We have nowhere to go but up." -- Shane Doan

The Coyotes opened the season with five goals in win against Boston in Prague. All four lines produced at least one goal in the 5-2 victory, and the power play needed less than 30 seconds of its first opportunity to score. Since then, Phoenix has just 18 goals in nine games and no one on the team has more than three.

Even the players who have scored have been inconsistent. Lee Stempniak got all three of his goals in the same game, while Kyle Turris got his three in a span of 20 minutes. Eric Belanger and defenseman Ed Jovanovski lead the team with 6 points each, a position neither expected to be in.

Thanks to the fantastic play of Ilya Bryzgalov -- who has picked up where he left off last season -- the Coyotes have managed to collect nine points in 10 games (3-4-3) to keep matters from getting worse. But Saturday they were shut out at home, 3-0, by Dan Ellis and Tampa Bay, giving Phoenix six games with two goals or fewer and two shutouts in the young season.

There have been extenuating circumstances. Only 10 players have skated in all 10 games thanks to injuries or suspensions.

Whitney had surgery on his right hand after the first two games of the season -- which he probably shouldn't have played -- and missed two weeks of practice. Doan felt he was finding a groove when he was suspended for three games for a hit on Anaheim's Dan Sexton. Center Martin Hanzal has missed the last five games with a lower-body injury, throwing three different lines into flux and leaving Vrbata without his favorite linemate.

Hanzal and defenseman Derek Morris will be back for Wednesday's home game with Nashville, giving Phoenix a full roster for the first time this season, and a chance to develop the chemistry they figured they would have by now.

"We haven't found our rhythm, that good feeling about yourself when you have a well-oiled machine," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Getting Hanzal back will hopefully help that because he touches and affects so many areas of the game (faceoffs, special teams, etc). If his line is playing well, the others tend to follow suit."

There will be more shakeups. Doan was skating with Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler -- another Phoenix forward without a goal so far -- in hope that a change of scenery will help, while Whitney will join the Hanzal-Vrbata duo.

"You look at our record and then look at the people who haven't scored yet, and as a group we haven't gotten it done," said Whitney, who hasn't helped a Phoenix play that sits 28th in the League at just 9.1 percent. "It's not just generating offense, it's not generating chances. We are a defense-first team, but offensively you have to commit to scoring goals when you're in the offensive zone. We're not sustaining any offensive pressure."
Quote of the Day

Obviously there's a lot of expectations around me but it's something I try not to focus on. I'm just trying to go out there, be myself on the ice every day, try to get better, be myself around the guys in the locker room. I think that's what's made me successful and the person that I am.

— Sabres forward Jack Eichel on transitioning from college hockey to the NHL