OK, everybody take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
In other words, don’t panic. Yes, the Coyotes lost their last two games before the NHL break for the Winter Olympics and they scored just one goal in those two games.
But it’s all good. Trust me, the players are still confident in what they are doing and still confident they will reach the playoffs despite their mini-slump before the break. Frankly, they are tired and this break is more than welcome. It’s needed
. Even captain Shane Doan
, who loves playing hockey more than any person I’ve ever met, is psyched for a little R & R.
“We need a break,” Doan told me in our last interview until the team reconvenes for practice on Feb. 24. “We’ve played 63 games in four months. Every team needs a break. I think this break is going to be great for the whole league because everybody’s going to come back very refreshed and that’s going to amp up the play at the best time of the season.”
Doan is the only member of the Coyotes who played in the team’s last playoff game on April 26, 2002. He’s excited to see what happens after the break.
“I’m very happy with what we’ve accomplished so far,” Doan said. “I don’t know what the odds would have been at the beginning of the season on us to have the fourth most points in the whole league at the Olympic break. But, we also recognize that as good as we’ve played there’s like five or six teams right on our heels and some of those teams are going to go on a run. The last 20 games, we have to make it as tough as we can on those teams to catch us.”
Readers have asked me how General Manager Don Maloney feels about starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who already has played 54 games this season, playing in the Winter Olympics instead of resting for the stretch run to the NHL playoffs.
Here’s Maloney’s take:
“I think it’s very positive for his psyche and his mind-set to be a goaltender in that event on that magnificent stage. If he does play, he will be playing against the best of the best. To me, that can only be a good thing; it could inspire him to come back to us and lead us to a championship. The only concern we have is his health. He’s played a lot of minutes for us so I have some mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love that he’s there. On the other hand, if he doesn’t play in all of the games that might be OK, too.”
The Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament starts on Tuesday. Three Coyotes – Bryzgalov (Russia), Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic) and Sami Lepisto (Finland) – all are there and will compete for medals.
No offense to any of them, but I am pulling for Team USA. The fate of the young American team clearly rests in the hands of goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. For the U.S to win gold, Miller will have to play an incredible tournament. Here’s hoping he does, a la Jim Craig in 1980.
Maloney recently told me that forward Viktor Tikhonov
will re-join the Coyotes in early or mid March after the team he’s playing for in Russia finishes its season.
“That’s our plan right now,” Maloney said. “From all the reports, he’s had a very strong season in Russia and we look forward to having him back. He’s been so well-schooled and he can kill penalties. He’s another player who can help us win.”
Thanks for reading.