Photo Credit: Norm Hall
The Phoenix Coyotes have reached the midway point in their season and as a result of their current seven-game winning streak, have reached the .500 mark. After starting the year with an unimpressive 4-12-0 record, the Phoenix Coyotes have now become the hottest team in the NHL. The number one reason why: goaltending.
The Coyotes started the year with Curtis Joseph struggling to find the success he had a season ago, while Phoenix's backup goaltenders did not give the Coyotes the stability they had hoped for from the backup position.
"Early in the season we struggled as a team," said Joseph. "Myself and the whole team. Now we are playing really well and there is a renewed confidence throughout the lineup."
The Coyotes were falling further and further behind in the Western Conference playoff race. There is no doubt that injuries had played a role in the poor start to the "Desert Dogs" season. The Coyotes so far this season, have lost a total of 117-games due to injuries, but the Coyotes have gotten healthier recently and made a key acquisition in November, trading Tyson Nash to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Michal Tellqvist, a move that may have saved the Phoenix Coyotes' season.
Tellqvist has been just shy of unbeatable since putting on a Coyotes sweater for the first time. In his first game as a Coyote, "Telly" made 19-saves against the Nashville Predators and helped Phoenix to a 3-2 win and has been on fire ever since. In 11 games with the Coyotes, he has posted a 7-2-2 record with a 2.64 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.
After a 6-11-0 start to the season, Curtis Joseph has certainly found his game again. With the addition of Michal Tellqvist, in his last nine games played, Cujo is 5-3-0 with two shutouts, a 2.53 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, all numbers are extremely better than the beginning of the season.
"(Mikael's) a tremendous person, well liked by his teammates and I played with him in Toronto and knew all about him and he's played some great goaltending here." said Joseph, who recently passed Jaques Plante for fifth on the NHL's All-time wins list. "He's easy to get along with and I talk to him everyday so we certainly have good chemistry."
Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky knows that his goaltending duo has been a major reason for the team's turnaround.
"Both guys have been outstanding. Our goaltending has been just nothing short of brilliant throughout these last two months," said Gretzky. "Curtis has been great since we got him here. But now, we've got a guy to help him out and give him some time. When he gets a rest he gets a good rest and when he goes back in he's fresh and they're both playing really, really well."
It seems as though the competition has brought out the best in both goaltenders and the Coyotes have benefited, winning their last seven games while shutting out their opponent three times over the last nine games. Many may wonder if there is a battle to be the number-one guy in the Coyotes net. There is no doubt that a friendly competition exists between the two goaltenders but Gretzky believes that is healthy for both players.
"I think that's what makes athletes, athletes," said Gretzky. "You always want to be successful and you always want to excel and you always want to win.
"They want to play every night, (but) the reality is you can't play every night," continued Gretzky. "The game is too fast and too hard. They got a nice thing going here, they like each other and they have respect for each other. We need two guys going and we are happy we have these two guys."
Playoff hopes for the Coyotes were distant just a month and a half ago, but now, with the insurgence of a strong goaltending tandem in Joseph and Tellqvist, the playoffs are within sight, the eighth spot is just three points away and the Coyotes hot streak has no end in sight.