|Luke Lapinski |
The point is, sometimes the first edition of something is simply the best. And for the Coyotes, year one of the Dave Tippett Era in Phoenix set the bar pretty high. But this year’s group has flashed the ability to be even better, thanks in no small part to a term we’ve heard roughly a million times now: resiliency.
As a result of injuries, the growing pains of relying on young players, more injuries, the process of incorporating new pieces into an established system, an absurdly competitive Western Conference, injuries, and some injuries, the Coyotes have had their ups and downs this season. But their record doesn’t show it. They sit atop the Pacific Division (though that might change seven times as you read this) and the main reason they’ve been able to rise while other teams have sputtered is their ability to turn negatives into positives.
The entire league is experiencing a crazy season. The defending Stanley Cup champs are on the outside looking in and the best player in the world is hurt, yet somehow no one knows when – or even if - he’s coming back. The Capitals are suddenly a born-again defensive team and goalies everywhere are starting up their own personal fight clubs. Not much makes sense right now.
|Head Coach Dave Tippett. Photo by Associated Press. |
Amidst the chaos, the Coyotes – along with the Red Wings - are the only Western Conference teams that have yet to drop three consecutive games in regulation. In other words, they know how to stop the bleeding. Most teams don’t. Phoenix has mastered the art of banking points on winning streaks while not handing them back with prolonged losing streaks and that’s a valuable tool. You don’t want your team bouncing all over the place like a Quentin Tarantino film. This isn’t Pulp Fiction.
So how are they doing it? Coaching? Leadership from within the locker room? Or is it a byproduct of the experience this team gained from going seven games with Detroit last April? If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, well, you’re just not very decisive. But you are right for the purposes of this blog. No one element has given the Coyotes this ability; it’s a combination of players, coaches, and – to a certain extent - even the fans who have had their resiliency tested over the years. And now it’s paying off.
Take a look at two examples from this recent stretch. On Feb. 9 in Dallas, the Coyotes fell behind the Stars in their building after a Brad Richards goal that was controversial to say the least. Plays like that can bury a team this time of year, but the Coyotes bounced back with a third period equalizer and their first overtime goal all year. At the time, Dallas was one of the most difficult teams in hockey to rally against. Instead of folding, Phoenix rose to the occasion and that’s symbolic of the bigger picture: when the Coyotes fall behind by a goal, don’t you generally expect them to come back? Did you feel that confident three years ago?
Need a more obvious example? Well, in a recent four-period span, Phoenix surrendered 11 goals, blew a three-goal lead vs. the Sharks, and were humiliated at home by Vancouver. After all their preparation, that’s how they came out of the All-Star Break – the equivalent of waiting for your wedding day, then tripping down the aisle and accidentally marrying the wrong person. The whispers began, the injuries started to mount again (actually, for the purposes of saving space here, let’s assume the phrase “the injuries started to mount” is just interspersed between every other sentence in any blog about this team this season. Thanks.) and the Coyotes response was… well… they haven’t lost since.
So here we are. With the playoffs right around the corner, the Coyotes have become a group that other teams don’t really want to face in a seven-game series. They have the experience now and they use it to adjust in a hurry. At the risk of sounding like I’m quoting Chumbawumba, this team gets back up again after they get knocked down. They know how to deliver a gutty effort when the odds are against them and turn a potentially bad stretch into a good one.
Of course, the other way to make a nice run at the playoffs is to just win every single game. And that seems to be their current plan.