Now, after 15 days, the focus of the hockey world shifts back to the NHL and what promises to be a very fun and compelling final six weeks of the regular season, especially for the Coyotes, a team poised to shatter franchise records for success.
For instance, with 19 games to go the Coyotes need to win just eight times to set the franchise mark for victories in one season (44). More importantly, the team’s first playoff appearance in eight years appears well in reach; only three teams in the 30-team league have earned more points than Phoenix.
I asked Head Coach Dave Tippett on Sunday if he was concerned about his team playing with complacency down the stretch.
“We’ve earned a lot of points in the standings, but I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can yet,” Tippett said. “We’re going to strive to get better and better… We’ve still got a long ways to go to get ourselves to where we feel like we’re going to be a strong playoff team.”
He added, “We played hard to get ourselves in a playoff position before the break, now this last push is very important for us. We have to continue to play well.”
|Robert Lang |
One area the Coyotes know they must improve is power-play scoring. Phoenix will enter Tuesday’s game against St. Louis ranked 29th in power-play efficiency at 15.2 percent. Center Robert Lang, who has played in 87 NHL playoff games, told me that’s simply not going to cut it in the stretch run or the postseason should the Coyotes qualify.
“Every good team has a good power play,” Lang said. “It has to be a weapon and it has to be feared because if you go to the playoffs and the other team knows they can take as many penalties as they want and you’re not going to score it’s a big disadvantage.”
Here’s Tippett’s take on the power-play woes:
“It’s been a struggle. We’ve done some decent things on it, but we haven’t been able to score. So we’re trying to put all of the components of it together… We’ve had some great chances but in the end the only way a power play can be successful is if you score. That’s an area we’ll put a lot of onus on.”
The Coyotes will begin the post-Olympics portion of their schedule with a four-game homestand that begins on Tuesday vs. St. Louis. After that homestand, Phoenix will play 11 of its final 15 games on the road.
General Manager Don Maloney spoke to the media on Sunday about Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline and again mentioned how the Coyotes will continue to explore adding a defenseman and/or a scorer. However, Maloney reiterated that he would not be willing to send a high draft pick and a prospect to another team in exchange for a “rental player.”
|Don Maloney |
“We are looking to add and not subtract, but it’s a seller’s market,” Maloney said. “Quite frankly there are only three or four teams that are actively looking to move people out and then there’s the rest of us looking to improve.”
He added, “We’d like to have a little more depth on the blue line. We like what we have here now, but if we can improve that area that would be good. The strength of our team is our defense ... so if we can help ourselves there, that’s our first priority.”
The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday at 1 p.m. (Arizona time).
Defenseman Sami Lepisto, who won a bronze medal at the Olympics playing for Finland, is expected back at practice on Monday. Olympians Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic) and Ilya Bryzgalov (Russia) re-joined the team at Sunday’s practice.
|Sami Lepisto (right) at the Olympics. |
Both Tippett and Maloney are expecting Lepisto – and the Coyotes – to benefit from his experience at Vancouver.
“His performance there gets me excited,” Maloney said. “For the first time on that stage I thought he acquitted himself very well. When you watched the games, the announcers were raving about his play. I think for a young player like that that should boost his play and his belief in himself.”
• Forward Petr Prucha has been skating with teammates minus the no-contact yellow sweater since Friday and appears ready to go for Tuesday’s game. The last time fans saw Prucha he was being taken off the ice inside Jobing.com Arena on a stretcher after being checked hard into the boards by Dallas Stars forward James Neal on Feb. 13.
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