Coyotes Television Color Analyst and former NHL goaltender Darren Pang, took time to sit down with phoenixcoyotes.com and look at the little things the Coyotes are starting to do that result in winning games in this installment of Coyotes-Xing.
Phoenixcoyotes.com: What are some of the differences you are seeing the Coyotes play over the first 10 games of the season as compared to the last 10?
Darren Pang: There is definitely a learning process that the players on this team are going through. The fact is we don't have a lot of players who have won a Stanley Cup and until you have been there, at that high of a level, you don't understand what it takes to be regarded and play like a top team.
Some of the little things that they have started doing are things like, when you are in your own zone there is about a five-eight foot area just inside your blue line that we call the "gray zone." Earlier in the season, some of the guys weren't willing to take a hit to get the puck out of the zone. Now I know it doesn't sound like much but by bailing out of that situation, the puck stays in your zone and for the next 40 seconds you are in scramble mode and that usually means the other team is going to get a great scoring chance. A lot of the time early on, that was disguised by the great play of Curtis Joseph or David LeNeveu, but now the team has began to commit to getting the puck out of the zone and it has resulted in an increase in the number of wins. The phase you always hear "take a hit to make a play," is really common but it's very true.
Another area we are seeing improvement in is the other "gray zone" in the attacking end. A lot of times early in the year, our players were turning back in that area, kind of flirting with the puck and when the puck is turned over in that "gray zone" it means there is going to be an odd man break going against you. So instead of getting the puck in deep and having another forward coming in to support you, it was basically one player on an island, trying to do too much with very little space. You could see it developing time and time again and that was something the coaching staff had been stressing since day one. In fact when Head Coach Wayne Gretzky had a microphone on during the game last Thursday against Calgary, one of the replays we showed was of Wayne talking with Ladislav Nagy about when he pulls up in that area. Wayne was telling him that you can pull up, but then reverse it by getting the puck deep in the zone instead of jamming your defenseman who is right there and having two o you in the same spot. And I've noticed that Nagy has really made a concerted effort to stop that little play that has been getting him and the team in trouble.
Those are some of the little steps that have taken some time, but the players are learning that if they are going to be a good team and a hard team to play against and one that can beat Detroit 3-2 rather than losing 3-2, those are the things you have to do. And lately there have been some mistakes made and "Cujo" has been that backbone that had sort of made you forget about the mistake until the next morning when the players arrive and find themselves on the video session. Players don't want to be n the video session. They don't want to be the guy who keeps getting highlighted by the coaching staff, so there is a certain amount of added pressure that is being put on the players that moves them from a stage where they may say "hey we're still learning," to one where they are all saying "that's not acceptable" and if you keep doing that, then you're not going to get the opportunity to be on the ice during the last minute of the game. And as every player knows, you want your coach to tap you on the back in the last minute regardless of whether you are winning or losing, because it means you're a very reliable player. It also means that if you're not getting tapped on the back, that you got some work to do.