GLENDALE – The Coyotes have exactly 30 games left to play in the regular season and captain Shane Doan is urging teammates – especially the half-dozen rookies on the roster – to focus on the next 20 instead of looking ahead to the final 10.
“The next 20 are really going to dictate your season,” Doan said. “We’ve worked hard up to this point, and the emotion of being in the NHL, if you’re a younger guy playing in the league and having some success, carries you to this point. But it starts to die out around the halfway point, and it’s really these next 20 games that are going to dictate what type of season you’re going to have and what type of player you’re going to be considered. The last 10 games of the year, everyone sees the end and so you have a kick and some leftover emotion, but if you don’t take care of this 20 then it doesn’t really mean much.”
The Coyotes (24-22-6) don’t play again until Wednesday when they’ll host Vancouver in the first of three games in four nights. Arizona is in fourth place in the Pacific Division standings, three points behind third-place Anaheim. In the wild-card standings, the Coyotes rank fourth behind Nashville, Colorado and Minnesota. Only two wild-card teams make the post-season.
Doan, who has reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs nine times in his 20-year career, and Head Coach Dave Tippett have been preaching a will-over-skill approach as the grind of an 82-game season starts to kick in around game No. 50.
“Tip’s laid everything out for us and explained everything to us,” Doan said. “We know exactly where we stand. We’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in it. But people telling you that you’re good and people telling you that you’re in it, there’s a big difference between that and going out there and executing the next 20 games.”
Doan said the League’s elite team’s understand the importance of the games played in February and March. The players for Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim – teams which Arizona played last week and lost to – realize that it’s now crunch time as teams jockey for positions in the standing/playoffs.
“There is an understanding (on those teams) that this is a long haul and 50 games gets you absolutely nothing,” Doan said. “We’ve got a long way to go and this is where everything starts to really become important.”
While the Coyotes do have six rookies on the roster, it’s a roster that also features eight players over 30 years old. Per Doan, it will be their leadership over the younger players approaching the grind for the first time that will be crucial to the team’s success.
Doan said he learned the value of a strong work ethic at crunch time early in his career. He remembers playing on a line with center Juha Ylonen and winger Mika Alatalo, and thriving with them because of the trio’s hard work.
“It didn’t really matter if we scored or we didn’t,” Doan said. “We just did the same things, and I think it taught me a lot that year. No matter what – if you score, if you don’t score – it shouldn’t dictate if you had a good game or not. You have a good game depending on how you work. That’s something I’ve tried to hold on to.”
Doan will enter Wednesday’s game needing one power-play goal to set a franchise record for power-play goals, and needing one point to tie Dale Hawerchuk for first place on the franchise’s all-time points list.