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by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
CHICAGO -- The Coyotes will start this week in first place in the Pacific Division standings, and in second place in the Western Conference standings but tied with first-place Chicago with 97 points. Tuesday night’s game against the Blackhawks promises to be an intense matchup between two very good teams in a playoff-like atmosphere. Don’t miss it!

I have been at every game this season and I can tell you that there is something special about how this team approaches its games. The players really do EXPECT to win every one, regardless of the opponent, the site, the travel schedule and/or the start time.

That mind-set comes from the coaching staff, and the players have bought in. The results speak for themselves.

“Dave Tippett and the other coaches have done such an amazing job with this team,” defenseman Derek Morris told me. “They tell you what to do and you go out and you do it and it’s successful. That’s all you can ask for as a player.”

This season has been a fun ride for an extraordinary team. What impresses me most is that it’s truly a team that works together for the common good. There are no superstars in the dressing room and that’s OK. There are no egos in there either.

“Everybody on this team plays for each other,” Morris said. “There’s no selfish guys here. The attitude is strictly about the team and about winning and getting in the playoffs and going deep.”

Tippett changed the lineup on Sunday by getting defensemen Sami Lepisto and Jim Vandermeer back on the ice. It was a move designed to keep those players engaged with what’s going on because both are healthy and haven’t played in a while. From my chair, it was a very smart move.

Lepisto replaced Mathieu Schneider on the blue line and Vandermeer was used at left wing in place of Daniel Winnik.

Vandermeer, who played forward a few times while with Calgary, was OK with the assignment.

“The coaches asked me if I minded doing that and I told them I just wanted to play and it didn’t really matter where it was in the lineup,” Vandermeer said. “I guess we’ll go from there and see what happens next game.”

Vandermeer played forward as a youngster and up through his first junior season with Red Deer before making the switch to defenseman.

Forward Scottie Upshall, who is rehabbing his left knee after season-ending surgery back in February, did a nice job as radio analyst during Saturday’s home game vs. Chicago. He and play-by-play announcer Bob Heethuis had great chemistry and many of Upshall’s comments were quite insightful. I definitely can envision Upshall working as an analyst after his playing days are over, perhaps even on TV.

Teammate Vernon Fiddler agrees.

“Uppy, I just want to say that they should have you on TV because you're so darn pretty," Fiddler cracked before answering his teammate’s question on the air during their interview session in the first intermission.

Fiddler, by the way, is eagerly awaiting the birth of his second child. Fiddler's wife, Chrissy, is back in Phoenix and the due date for the baby is April 1. Fiddler told me Monday that he plans to be with Chrissy when the baby is born, so the Coyotes may have to make due without him briefly if she goes into labor during this trip, which ends on Thursday, or on the next one, which starts March 29. 

The Coyotes have nine games left in the regular season. Seven of those games, including the next four, will be played against teams currently in the playoff picture jockeying for position. Calgary, which is in ninth place in the standings, also is in the mix. It should make for some fun games to watch.

Thanks for reading.


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