GLENDALE -- For the past four seasons under Head Coach Dave Tippett, the Phoenix Coyotes have built a recipe for winning based on a disciplined defense, strong goaltending and nursing slim leads to the finish line.
This season? Heading into their game Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues, the Coyotes are off to their best start in Tippett's tenure at 12-4-2. The path they have taken to get there has been a strange but certainly crowd-pleasing route.
"Yeah, real exciting," Tippett said, rolling his eyes. "Unless you're a coach. Then it's like sitting in a dentist's chair."
On Saturday, Phoenix trailed Washington 3-1 with less than four minutes to play. But a diving backhand goal by Lauri Korpikoski with 3:26 to go and Shane Doan's second power-play goal of the night with 1:46 left tied the game. The Coyotes opened overtime killing off a Washington power play and then needed only two rounds to snap the Capitals' streak of nine straight shootout wins and pull out a 4-3 win.
"We are a resilient group," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "We came into the room after the second period [down 3-1] and there was no panic or sense that the game is lost. We knew we could come back. We've done it before. It was like, 'OK, let's get a couple of goals and take our chances in overtime.'
"When you win like that it's a different feeling than when you win by three goals or wire-to-wire. Those kinds of comebacks feel like they are worth more than two points. You get a lot out of them."
The Washington win felt like one of those once-a-season games -- except for the Coyotes they have been par for the course in the first five weeks.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
Phoenix leads the NHL with 23 third-period goals and has rallied from third-period deficits to win four times this season. Each of the Coyotes' past four wins have come via the shootout, and those four wins have them tied with the Capitals and Los Angeles Kings for the most in the League.
It's not the way Tippett draws it up. It's not a method you want to hang your hat on. But so far it's been working.
"We have a good group that never quits and I love that we never quit," Tippett said. "But why are you in that position? We've had good results getting out of holes, but getting in them isn't as much fun to watch."
But it keeps happening.
On Oct. 31, the Coyotes spotted Nashville a 3-0 first-period lead and were down 4-2 in the third before roaring back to tie on goals by Doan and Antoine Vermette and starting their run of shootout wins thanks to Mikkel Boedker's game-deciding shootout goal.
"We have a lot of confidence right now and that's a huge plus," said Doan, who has seven goals in his past eight games. "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. Right now when we're down two goals in the third period, we think we can come back and we have some history to prove we can. But you can't go to that well too many times."
Tippett is quick to point out that in some of the games where Phoenix has fallen behind the score wasn't indicative of the play.
"We were down in the game but I wasn't down on how we were playing," he said. "We gave up a bad goal or we got a bad bounce, but we didn't have to change our approach or our level of play. We just had to keep going and hope that things even out."
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
A big component to the comebacks has been an improved power play, which enters play Tuesday 11th in the League at 20.3 percent. With newcomer Mike Ribeiro acting as quarterback and defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Yandle getting pucks on net, the Coyotes have 14 power-play goals in the first 18 games after managing 25 all of last season.
"Ribeiro has helped us make the right play at the right time and our defensemen have been really dynamic and the percentage on power play shows that," Tippett said. "But you've got to have some luck too. We've been getting that late in games when we need it."
Rallies aren't always enough. On Oct. 24 the Coyotes feel behind 4-0 after one period in Los Angeles but came back to tie the Kings early in the third period. Their energy expended by playing catch-up, the Kings won 7-4.
The Coyotes know that sooner or later they have to get back to their bread and butter: tight, low-scoring games and protecting slim leads.
"It seems to take us a little while to get going and it's a dangerous way to play," forward Rob Klinkhammer said. "We don't need to be making these late comebacks every night. We need to play with that desperation all during the game. That's what will take us to the next level."