Photo Credit: Norm Hall
After a rocky start to the season, the Phoenix Coyotes have dramatically improved their play over the past two weeks. As a result, Phoenix has won five of their last eight games, including four in a row on home ice and talk of climbing back into the playoff hunt is turning into a reality.
There are many reasons for the Coyotes turnaround but none more important than Phoenix's strong team defense; a defense that is led by off season free-agent acquisition, Ed Jovanovski.
Last summer the Coyotes zeroed in on Jovanovski, citing that they wanted to drastically improve their defense. As the season began, the Coyotes struggled in all aspects on the ice, defense being one of them as they looked to find an identity. Jovanovski recognized what needed to be done and went to work getting the ship turned around. He is currently second on the team in scoring with 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) and six points over his last five games.
"I definitely feel a lot better," said Jovanovski. "Am I playing differently than the start of the year? - I don't think so. I think my legs have been feeling a lot better."
For a defense that added not only Jovanovski but also former All-Star Nick Boynton over the off-season, it would take some time for each player to understand their role along the blueline.
"I think coming into a new team and a new system( takes time," said Jovanovski. "In Vancouver I played right defenseman up and I was a right d-man. Now I am playing (on the) left and I am kind of sitting back so changes happen and I am feeling a lot more comfortable on the left side now."
Jovanovski still can't figure out why they Coyotes got off to such a slow start.
"I can't pinpoint one thing," said Jovanovski. "I've been in this game long enough that I know there are going to be ups and downs. We just have to remain positive. Bottom line for me is the team winning. For me individual accomplishments come second to winning so hopefully we can win some games and if that happens everyone reaps the rewards for it."
So what has been the Coyotes secret over the last two weeks? Jovanovski says they are winning because of hard work and doing whatever it takes to put a "W" in the win column.
"Its been a culmination of everything, I think overall we've had some good times the last couple of weeks here and we have to remember the feeling and how hard it really was to get a win," said Jovanovski.
Everyone on the Coyotes are buying into the same philosophy on what this team needs to do in order to be successful and with 20 players sharing the same goal, winning is inevitable.
"We are a team that needs to work hard and outwork the other team each and every night to have an opportunity to win," said Jovanovski
Despite recent success, Jovanovski is still frustrated (to say the least) about the hole the Coyotes put themselves in earlier in the year.
"Frustrating is a little understatement at times at the beginning of the year," said Jovanovski. "As a player you can't look in the past you've got to look to the future and your next opponent and make sure you beat them."
One of the biggest challenges for the Coyotes blueliners has been dealing with injuries and having to fill important roles on short notice, however, Jovanovski believes this defensive group is as solid as they come.
"I think it's a great unit," added Jovanovski. "We've had some bad luck with (Keith Ballard) going out and now (Nick) Boynton's out with an injury. Overall it's a strong point on our team. We all move the puck well, we skate and I think that's an area we really have to use to our advantage."
On paper, the Coyotes have a very strong defensive unit, a unit that when healthy is considered by some to be one of the best in the league. It was a rough start for Phoenix but now they are beginning to live up to their potential and opposing teams are paying the price.