Here's 10 things we’ve learned about this Coyotes team since the Olympic Break:
1. The intensity isn’t going anywhere. I know there were concerns as to how this team would finish down the stretch after what happened last season, but those concerns went out the window when the Coyotes won nine games in a row against contending teams at the most difficult time of the year to string wins together.
2. Depth is imperative for success in the NHL, and this team has it now. Watch a Coyotes practice - it looks like training camp because there are so many players on the ice. And, in a way, I guess it is a training camp for the playoffs. It says a lot about this organization’s commitment to
winning that it's willing to keep this many guys on the roster. And why wouldn’t you give Head Coach Dave Tippett as many players to work with as possible? Look, we all know he builds motorcycles from scratch in his spare time, but what he’s done taking this team from the brutal summer they had to near the top of the league is the hockey equivalent of building a fully functioning space ship from scratch. Out of Jell-O. The man is practically MacGyver. He’s found the perfect blend of holding players accountable while being open and honest about his expectations of them and it doesn’t take a sports psychologist to figure out the importance of open communication in the dressing room. If he doesn’t win the Jack Adams Award, they may as well just melt that thing down or have a raffle to randomly award it because it loses credibility if he’s not holding it this June.
3. You make your own luck. The goal that Radim Vrbata
scored on Tomas Vokoun from about 7,000 feet away certainly symbolized this but it’s not the only example. That’s the kind of shot that would go in against the Coyotes over the last few years, not for them (think: David Perron’s goal last year for the Blues). You can’t control everything, but smart plays and positive energy go a very long way.
4. I’m pretty sure either “Wojtek” or “Wolski” is Polish for "octopus." The man stickhandles like he has eight arms. It’s just not fair.
5. The concept of team chemistry is usually overused and clichéd, but not in this case. In fact, this dressing room is exactly what teams aspire to when they discuss chemistry. Everyone gets along and genuinely wants their teammates to succeed. I can’t ever recall being around a group of players in any sport that grasped the concept of what a “team” truly is as well as this unit has.
6. The system works. The Coyotes have won a number of games this season when they didn’t have their best stuff because they stuck together and played within Tippett’s system. Having a good game plan and players who believe in it is a major weapon to have on your side because no one can be on top of their game every single night. (Well, unless your name is Lee Stempniak apparently. I know it’s still relatively early, but General Manager Don Maloney definitively got the better end of that deal unless the Maple Leafs end up drafting the next Ovechkin with that fourth-round draft pick. Wow!)
7. This story is becoming bigger than just hockey. It honestly feels like a sports movie at this point. In fact, if this were a movie would it even be believable?
8. They’ve arrived but the job is far from done. This team has definitely developed a certain swagger without being overconfident. Meanwhile, the perception of them from opposing players and fans around the league has gone from afterthought to nice story to genuine respect to “this is a team to fea.r” And it’s not an I’m-afraid-to-turn-on-my-TV-because-Jersey Shore-might-be-on-and-that-show-makes-my-ears-cry type of fear, it’s a legitimate if-you-don’t-play-your-best-hockey-you-have-no-chance-of-beating-these-guys sort of fear. Think about it: when’s the last time you saw a team play a weak game and beat the Coyotes?
9. This entire team has a profound ability to separate the value of winning one game from playing at a high level. Too often, teams dwell on games they played well but lost because the puck just wouldn’t bounce their way. This squad is the complete opposite. To a man, every one of them will tell you they still haven’t played their best hockey yet. Even after a victory, they realize what parts of their game they need to embrace and what they need to change going forward because they’re playing for a higher goal. As Tippett explained to us media-types at one of the first practices back in October, “If it ain’t broke, you’re not looking hard enough.”
10. This is a lot of fun right now, isn’t it?