While neither player would be considered flashy or will lead the team in goals, they both quietly do the little things that have helped put the Coyotes on pace to record the most wins in franchise history this season.
“They give you that ultra-competitiveness every night,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “Fiddler is strong on face-offs, and one of our top penalty killers. Winnik is a hard-nosed player who battles every night. They have been very good for us. You need players like that in order to win games. It’s that simple.”
|Vernon Fiddler and Daniel Winnik. (Photo by Getty Images) |
A key example of Fiddler’s ultra-competitiveness came when the Coyotes hosted the New York Rangers at Jobing.com Arena on Jan. 30.
Phoenix took a penalty late in that game with New York trailing by a goal and looking for the equalizer. While his team was shorthanded, Fiddler won two crucial faceoffs in the defensive zone and blocked three shots, helping his team maintain the lead and hold on for a 3-2 victory.
Efforts like that are nothing new for Fiddler. Coming into this season, he had played in 305 career NHL games, all with the Nashville Predators. While with Nashville, he collected 45 goals, 48 assists for 93 points and registered 190 penalty minutes. But it’s Fiddler’s penalty killing, faceoff skills and leadership in the locker room that make him such a valuable player in the NHL.
When he became a free agent last summer, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney jumped at the opportunity to sign him, inking the center to a two-year contract on July 1 – the first day of NHL free agency. Fiddler has not disappointed. Through the team’s first 63 games, Fiddler led the Coyotes in faceoff efficiency at 53.5 percent. In addition, he led the club in shorthanded ice-time and his two shorthanded goals also led the team.
|Vernon Fiddler takes a faceoff. (Photo by Getty Images). |
“We pursued Vern Fiddler last summer primarily for two reasons,” Maloney said. “He was strong in the faceoff circle and a very good penalty killer, both weak areas of our game during the 2008-09 season. He has an excellent work ethic and often sets the standard on how we need to work to be successful this season. He has been a terrific addition.”
Fiddler says his success with the Coyotes starts with the fact that the transition from Nashville to Phoenix was almost seamless.
“I think it’s been fairly easy for myself,” Fiddler said. “Coming over and with Dave Tippett taking over, he’s a similar coach to what I had in Nashville with Barry Trotz. It’s been a pretty easy transition. The guys have been great to me and welcomed me with open arms, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
|Vernon Fiddler |
While playing in Nashville, Fiddler endeared himself to the fans for playing a hard-working style of hockey, and now he’s starting to endear himself to Coyotes fans for the same reason.
The Edmonton native enjoys the brand of hockey that he plays.
“It’s just part of winning,” Fiddler said. “If you’re not willing to sacrifice yourself for your team, then you probably shouldn’t be out there. It’s part of my role. I want to do it to the best of my abilities and if it’s taking a shot or getting in a fight or getting the puck out of the zone, taking a face-off, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Fiddler’s leadership on the penalty kill has led to a drastic turnaround in that department for the Coyotes. Phoenix finished last season ranked 28th in penalty killing at 76.8 percent. Through 63 games this season, Phoenix was ranked eighth in the NHL at 83.5 percent.
But Fiddler is not doing all of this alone. Linemate Daniel Winnik also is helping shoulder some of the load.
Like Fiddler, Winnik blocks shots and does a lot of the things that don’t jump off the stats sheet.
“Dan brings a second-effort approach to his shifts,” Maloney said. “He has regained the confidence he lacked last season and has excelled as one of our top penalty killers.”
|Daniel Winnik kills a penalty. (Photo by Getty Images) |
Fiddler appreciates Winnik’s willingness to play the same hard-working style of hockey that he plays.
“It’s fun to play with a guy who is willing to sacrifice his body every night and we’ve found that we play well together,” Fiddler said. “We have been playing together all year. I think we try to use each other as much as we can. As far as defensively, we always seem to cover each other and he’s a guy that’s willing to go down and block shots as well.”
Winnik said that he and Fiddler found chemistry right away.
“We were put together in one of the last preseason games and I think we have stuck together the whole season, minus when the both of us were hurt,” Winnik said. “But we play very similar styles, and we both know our roles and we focus on the job we have to do.”
Winnik thinks he and Fiddler make pretty good linemates.
“He’s a hard-nosed player, that’s his job,” Winnik said. “He gets in the corners, he’s good defensively and strong on the penalty kill, and I think a lot of people underestimate his offensive skills. It’s really been a pleasure playing with him this year. We’ve just had great chemistry.”
Winnik is in his third season with the Coyotes and has already eclipsed his point total from last season. He credits some of that success to playing alongside Fiddler.
|Daniel Winnik |
“I just think it’s the chemistry between us that’s helped a lot, and sticking with the same guy,” Winnik said. “It’s tough when you kind of bounce between lines, somewhat similar to last year where you don’t get comfortable or you don’t get used to one person’s tendencies, and we’ve just been feeding off each other, which helps.”
Fiddler said that he enjoyed competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs for Nashville and the ultimate goal is to bring that same caliber of hockey to the Valley.
“You don’t play in the NHL to sit around and golf all summer,” Fiddler said. “You want to be involved in the playoffs and I just think it would be great for our team to play (in the playoffs) and have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“Anything can happen once you get to the playoffs. Obviously we’ve got some work to do to get there, but we’ve put ourselves in a good situation to be there and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
A big part of it.