What have we learned about this young Coyotes team after their first 13 games? Plenty!
Head Coach Wayne Gretzky’s squad has had a long road trip, an extended homestand, games against the NHL’s best, as well as teams that are struggling, and a 7-6-0 record at this point is very respectable.
Numbers and stats alone don’t always tell the story, but consider the fact that this team has given up the first goal eight times and it has a 4-4-0 record in those games! I realize this stat has changed a bit since the lockout ended, but generally speaking, teams have a losing record and often are well below .500 in games in which the opposition scores first. That’s a sign of character and, I think, an extension of the calmness that Gretzky displays behind the bench.
The best example of this came Sunday in the team’s 4-2 win over the NHL’s hottest team, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks came in riding a seven-game win streak and had a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals just over 10 minutes into the game. It was the fourth straight game that Phoenix gave up the first goal. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov shut the door the rest of the way and the Coyotes’ key first goal came off the stick of rookie Viktor Tikhonov
. It was Tikhonov’s first career goal. From there, Olli Jokinen took over with two goals and an assist. The Coyotes were not fazed by a two-goal deficit against the red-hot Sharks.
The San Jose game also brings up another facet of this Phoenix team. Darren Pang mentioned during our Fox Sports Arizona Pre-Season preview that the pressure of playing and winning in the NHL can’t fall on the shoulders of this crop of rookies. Success for the Coyotes is going to depend on the consistent contribution of the veteran players. When you look at the first seven wins for the Coyotes, veterans like Doan, Jokinen, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris
and Steven Reinprecht are on the score sheet while Bryzgalov has been brilliant in six of those wins. Veteran backup Michael Tellqvist picked up a key win against Washington, which is also the only win where a veteran didn’t chip in with a goal (Mikkel Boedker
and Peter Mueller scored the goals in a 2-1 win). If the veterans remain consistent while this group of rookies and second-year players continue to gain confidence and improve, this could be a very special season in the Valley.
Here’s one last note on this still young NHL season. Panger and I also mentioned in our pre-season special the obvious fact that the Coyotes must be better at home (only 17 home victories in 2007-08). The home record stands at 5-2-0 through the first seven at Jobing.com Arena. Continued success at home is a must for any chance at a playoff berth in the tough Western Conference.
I also thought that attendance of 14,000-plus and 15,000-plus on back-to-back nights against Florida and San Jose was a good sign. The crowd for the San Jose game was particularly into the action. Let’s hope this is a sign that the sports fans in the Phoenix market are beginning to realize that this Coyotes team, win or lose, is a whole lot of fun to watch!
When you’re not able to get to the games, continue to watch the Coyotes on Fox Sports Arizona and AZ-TV!