1.The great start: There’s an old saying in the NHL that you can’t make the playoffs in October, but you can miss them with a poor start. The Coyotes opened the season with an impressive 6-3 win in LA and backed that up with a 3-0 win in Pittsburgh against the defending Stanley Cup champs. Five days later, Dave Tippett’s squad went into San Jose and blanked the powerful Sharks 1-0 in a shootout. Despite the disappointment of a 2-0 loss in their home opener in front of a “WhiteOut” capacity crowd, the Coyotes never fell below the .500 mark en route to a 9-4-0 record in October. Coach Tippett has said in a couple of interviews that the early wins in Pittsburgh and San Jose were the first signs that this group was capable of something very special.
2.The home win streak: Following a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 16, the Coyotes had a 6-5-0 record at Jobing.com Arena. In order to have a successful season, it’s important for any team to establish home-ice advantage. But, considering what had gone on in this market since the franchise went into bankruptcy back on May 5, there was something more at stake. The Coyotes needed to win over the fans. They needed to give the people a reason to come to Jobing.com Arena. A reason to believe. Beginning on Nov. 21 with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia, the Coyotes embarked on a franchise record 10 game home-ice winning streak. The streak came to an end with a shootout loss on New Year’s Eve against the San Jose Sharks. By then, the hockey world was beginning to take notice that something special was happening in Glendale, and the fans were slowly but surely coming back.
|Ed Jovanovski |
3.Playing through injuries: During the course of every NHL season, most teams must face the challenge of injuries to key players. But, let’s face it, some teams are much better equipped to handle the loss of a key player or two. With all the great work that Don Maloney had done in putting together a quality blend of youth and veterans, it didn’t appear there was enough depth of talent to withstand the loss of certain players. The first test came back in November when the Coyotes played a stretch of eight games with both Zbynek Michalek and Ed Jovanovski out of the lineup. This is the Coyotes number one defense pair. And remember, veteran Kurt Sauer had been out since playing in game one of the season. While a 3-4-1 record isn’t much to brag about, it was important for the Coyotes to get through this stretch without falling too far back in the standings.
The second big test came in late January when leading goal scorer Scottie Upshall was lost to a knee injury for the remainder of the season due to a freak accident on the ice. Upshall made a move along the boards during a home game on Jan. 28 against the Calgary Flames. He caught a rut in the ice and felt something pop. He had torn his ACL.
With about two weeks remaining before the Olympic break, this offensively challenged team that had to score by committee would certainly have a hard time staying in the playoff race now, right? Wrong! Refusing to let the bad news get them down, the team went 6-3-0 in the first ine games without Upshall leading up to the Olympic break.
4.The turning point game: Sometimes it’s difficult to pick one game that’s a defining moment during the course of the 82-game regular season grind. For me, it’s easy with the 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes. That game occurred on Jan. 26 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. In their only national TV appearance on Versus, the Coyotes let a 2-1 second period lead slip away and trailed the Red Wings 4-2 with less than two minutes remaining in the third. A power play goal by Keith Yandle
(with Ilya Bryzgalov on the bench for an extra attacker) with 1:30 remaining provided some hope. Tippett pulled Bryzgalov again and inserted Ed Jovanovski as a fourth forward right in front of the Detroit net. Jovo jammed home the tying goal with 23 seconds remaining. In overtime, Shane Doan
was the hero who completed the comeback for a 5-4 victory! Not only did this win prove that the Coyotes could come back against a quality opponent in a hostile environment, it ignited a then season high nine-game winning streak.
5.The trade deadline: One word for what Don Maloney pulled off on March 3… wow! Given the ownership situation, it would have been understandable if not much had happened on trade deadline day. But, with room in his budget and a few more willing trade partners than he may have originally imagined, Maloney transformed the Coyotes’ roster. Five players were added and only one (Peter Mueller) was traded away. Wojtek Wolski, Lee Stempniak, Petteri Nokelainen, Derek Morris
and Mathieu Schneider all came on board. All except Schneider (who was nursing a minor knee injury) stepped right into the lineup. The result? An amazing nine-game winning streak that not only solidified a playoff position but had the Coyotes challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference.
6. Standing-Room Only streak: With all the great things that happened on the ice during the 2009-10 season, perhaps the most telling statistic of all is the one that the naysayers loved to point out during the first half of the season: the attendance at Jobing.com Arena. Prior to Feb. 1, there were 12 games where the attendance failed to reach 10,000. The only sellout was the opening night “Return of The WhiteOut.” After Feb. 1, the Coyotes averaged 15,200 fans for the final 10 home games, including a season-ending streak of four standing-room only crowds!
The next chapter in this amazing saga is about to be written. The challenge that waits is a first round series against the Detroit Red Wings. Despite the fact that Phoenix is the No. 4 seed and Detroit is the No. 5 seed, the experienced Wings will be the favorite. Do I think the Coyotes can win this series? I’ll give the same answer as Todd Walsh did at the beginning of the season when he asked, why hockey in the desert? The answer is…why not! Enjoy the playoffs.