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by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes
By: Matt Rosen

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Despite early-season injuries that have taken a toll on the Phoenix Coyotes defense, the unit as a whole has shown improvement as a whole, allowing just three goals over the last two games. Part of the recent turnaround has been the return of defenseman Keith Ballard, the Coyotes second-year defenseman who shined a season-ago but was injured in the third game this year doing what he does best, playing a tough, energetic and feisty game.

The Coyotes blueliner was sidelined for 11 games, but that didn't keep Ballard from getting to the rink and staying in shape.

"I had surgery, took some days off and just rested and tried to keep the swelling down," said Ballard. "After that, I've been (at the arena) everyday. I started out just riding the bike and doing some small hand exercises trying to get some strength back and some movement in my hand and its just progressive.

"Everyday you do a little bit more (and) after about a week, I got back on the ice and did some light skating at first and progressed into some power skating and some technique and conditioning; and (I) got on the ice with the team (last) week."

Ballard knows that his defense and shot blocking ability are a big part of why he has flourished in the NHL, and he won't let his recent hand injury keep him from returning to the ice.

"It's (a) part of my game that makes me successful," said Ballard. "If I am not doing the things I can do well out there, I don't think I'm any good to the team, so I need to play the game the way I know how to play.

"It's been a good couple of days getting back on the ice with the team and back practicing again," said Ballard, who was surprised at the club's early season struggles. "We didn't expect this coming into the season, but at the same time it's a tough league and there is a lot of parody in the league right now. We are going have to play hard every night if we are going climb back towards the top."

Ballard says that some people are writing the Coyotes off because of their slow start and that is going to be a mistake.

"People are trying to forget about us," added Ballard. "We've got nothing to worry about, just play, that's the biggest concern for us. We just come out and play hard I think we'll be a good team."

Ballard played in all 82-games last year. Hopefully, the 11 games he's missed this season will be the last he'll miss for quite some time.

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