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Coyotes overcame slow start to rediscover game

by Dan Rosen
Phoenix GM Don Maloney was absolutely concerned 10 games into the season. It's not just that the Coyotes were losing, it was how they were losing.

Shots against were way up, 35.1 per game to be exact. Prized free agent recruit Ray Whitney was goalless. So, too, were Wojtek Wolski and Shane Doan, who had, as Maloney put it, "a three-game sabbatical" for his blind-side hit to Anaheim forward Dan Sexton's head on Oct. 17. Martin Hanzal had missed six straight games with a knee injury.

The Coyotes were 3-4-3. It wasn't pretty.

"The opportunities we were giving up didn't go with the identity we had established here," Maloney told "It was troubling, very troubling. Thank god our goaltender (Ilya Bryzgalov) has been himself since day one because I don't know where we would have been after 10 games if he wasn't really good."

They're 8-1-2 since, have won seven straight and gone nine in a row without a regulation loss, because they've been able to re-establish their identity as a team that plays smart defense, has great goaltending and possesses just enough offense.

Whitney, Vrbata and Hanzal have combined for 9 goals and 12 assists over the last five games. Wolski has picked up his pace and has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last nine games. The Coyotes are still allowing a lot of shots (33.4 per game over their last 11), but their goals against are down slightly and their goals for are way up.

They've scored 38 goals over their last 11 games after potting only 23 in their first 10. Lee Stempniak leads the team with only 7 goals, but seven other guys have 4 goals or more.

"It goes back to scoring by committee, which seems to be our mantra here," Maloney said. "I do feel that we have the potential to score more this year than last.

"Look at Ray Whitney, the last four or five games he's been the Ray Whitney that we knew we were signing. He's been absolutely dynamic and terrific and with Radim Vrbata and Hanzal, they're a terrific line right now. But the first 10 games you're saying, 'Boy oh boy, what are we going to do here?' Same thing with Wojtek Wolski. If after 10 games you would have told me that Wojtek Wolski, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan would have no goals I'd have been like, 'Holy smokes, what happened here?' But our identity has to be great team defense and outstanding goaltending, and if we get the offense we have received over the last four, five or six games then we can be a very good team."

Doan hasn't even gotten going yet. He played four games and then had to sit out three for his illegal hit on Sexton. He returned for the next five and finally scored a goal, but a knee injury put him out for seven games from Nov. 6-19.

Doan returned in Vancouver this past Sunday and played 15 shifts totaling 12:39. He suited up again Tuesday at Edmonton, playing five more shifts and four more minutes while adding an assist.

Maloney knows if the Coyotes' big captain can get going the team's offensive punch will get stronger.

"I think for a big, powerful man it takes time to get up to speed and every game it's a little better," Maloney said. "When he does come around and plays the game he will be playing for us, that'll just be another bullet we have in our gun."

Now let's go around the Western Conference to see what's shaking. The teams are listed in order of where they stand:

1. Detroit (13-4-2, 28 points)

The Red Wings have given up 13 goals over their last three games and they are 1-1-1. They were downed in Atlanta on Wednesday, 5-1. Jimmy Howard was pulled in favor of Joey MacDonald after two periods. Howard gave up 4 goals on 30 shots to lose in regulation for only the second time in his last 30 starts dating back to last season. Detroit has still won five of their last seven, but coach Mike Babcock questioned his team's work ethic after Wednesday's game.

2. Phoenix (11-5-5, 27 points)

The Coyotes will go for their eighth straight win Saturday at home against Anaheim. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed only six goals in his last four starts.

3. Vancouver (11-7-3, 25 points)

Wednesday's 4-2 win over Colorado snapped a four-game losing streak (0-3-1), including three in a row in regulation. The worst was last Saturday's 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. Alex Burrows on Wednesday played his best game since he had a goal and an assist against Ottawa on Nov. 10. He similarly had a goal and an assist to help beat the Avs, but it was his speed and chemistry with the Sedin twins that mattered. Rick Rypien on Thursday was granted an indefinite leave of absence to deal with personal matters.

4. Columbus (14-6-0, 28 points)

If we told you that at the quarter mark of the season the Blue Jackets would have the most wins in the Western Conference, you'd have probably told us we were nuts. Well, it's not so crazy if you know how the Jackets are winning. They're getting tremendous goaltending from Mathieu Garon and Steve Mason, and in the games they've won they've scored on average well over three goals. They have a huge game Friday against the Red Wings. The Jackets are 3-1 in the division so far.

5. St. Louis (12-5-3, 27 points)

The Blues have snapped out of their funk with three straight wins, including a 2-1 shootout decision over Nashville on Wednesday. Jaroslav Halak has stopped 64 of the last 67 shots he's faced since allowing a combined 13 goals in back-to-back losses to Colorado and Detroit. Barret Jackman is back after missing nine games with a sprained knee. David Perron still hasn't played since Joe Thornton nailed him with a blind-side hit to the head 10 games ago.

6. Los Angeles (13-8-0, 26 points)

The Kings have plummeted from the top spot, which they occupied two weeks ago, due to a 1-5 stretch over the last week and a half. Their lone win came in a shootout at Boston last Saturday. They went 1-3 on a brutal road swing through the Northeast Division. The only team they didn't get to face was the last place Maple Leafs. However, they don't have to get on a plane again until Dec. 12. The only road game they have between now and then is in Anaheim. They have five at home.

7. Colorado (12-9-1, 25 points)

The Avs lost to the Oilers on Thursday, one day after goalie Craig Anderson suffered a groin injury in their 4-2 loss to Vancouver. So that's the bad. But Colorado had a four-game winning streak heading into that game against the Canucks. Although they're currently seventh in the conference, they have one more win than the Canucks. Milan Hejduk has 4 points in the last three games and 7 points over his last six. After a slow start he's up to 24 points on 7 goals and 17 assists.

8. San Jose (10-6-4, 24 points)

A three-game losing streak came to an end Wednesday when the Sharks exacted at least a little revenge on the Blackhawks with a 5-2 win. Chicago swept San Jose in the Western Conference Finals last spring. Antti Niemi made 30 saves to beat his old team. For Niemi, it was only his third win of the season, but he's 2-0-1 in his last three starts. Patrick Marleau has 4 goals in the last five games and now leads the team with 10.

9. Chicago (11-11-2, 24 points)

It's been a game of hit or miss for the Blackhawks on their circus trip. After beating Edmonton, 5-0, they lost in Calgary, 7-2. They followed that by beating Vancouver, 7-1, but then they fell Wednesday in San Jose, 5-2. They're in Southern California for games Friday and Saturday before finally heading home. Marty Turco has given up 11 goals in his last two starts.

10. Dallas (11-8-1, 23 points)

The Stars snapped a two-game skid with a strong 2-1 win at Ottawa on Wednesday. They allowed only 19 shots after a dreadful performance two nights earlier in Toronto, where they lost, 4-1. Dallas has one of the League's worst penalty kills, but it did a good job Wednesday in both staying out of the box (only three minors) and killing off their mistakes (3-for-3 on the PK). They have an intriguing home and home against the Blues this weekend.

11. Anaheim (10-10-3, 23 points)

They're getting shots on goal, including 40 against Edmonton and 50 against Columbus, but they can't score enough to win. The Ducks have dropped five in a row since winning six straight. Despite all those shots, they recently lost in regulation to both the Blue Jackets (4-3) and the Oilers (4-2). Ryan Getzlaf pointed out after the Edmonton game last Sunday that getting 40 shots doesn't matter if they're coming from the outside. The Ducks aren't getting enough people crashing the net.

12. Minnesota (10-8-2, 22 points)

Five goals allowed to the Rangers was a sign of bad things to come against the Flyers on Wednesday night. The Wild gave up six more to Philadelphia, including three in a span of less than four minutes that started with Andreas Nodl's shorthanded goal. Minnesota is having puck problems these days. The Wild are not taking care of the pill and it's hurting them big time. Worse yet, both the losses to the Rangers and Flyers were on home ice. Nashville comes to St. Paul on Friday.

13. Nashville (9-7-4, 22 points)

Goal scoring has become an issue in Nashville again. The Predators have just one goal in their last two games, three over their past three and six in their past four. However, they are going to play the Wild on Friday, and Minnesota has yielded 11 goals on home ice in the last two games. Nashville has gotten solid goaltending from Pekka Rinne, who has started seven straight games and has yielded only four goals in the last four games.

14. Calgary (8-11-2, 18 points)

Coach Brent Sutter insists he likes the way the team is playing and Jarome Iginla told this week he believes the Flames are close to breaking out. Well, they're 2-8-2 in their last 12 games and they scored only two goals in a recent two-game swing in the New York metropolitan area. It doesn't get easier as they play in Philadelphia on Friday and Pittsburgh on Saturday before finally heading home.

15. Edmonton (6-11-4, 16 points)

Taylor Hall scored his fifth goal of the season with just 29 seconds left in regulation Thursday night to propel the Oilers to a 3-2 win over Colorado. Jordan Eberle set him up. The Oilers have sandwiched a pair of wins around a 5-0 loss to Phoenix. By no means is that reason to plan a parade in Edmonton, but the team has showed some promise in recent games. They blew a 2-0 lead to the Avs, but still managed to win the game because Eberle and Hall created some magic.

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