|Keith Yandle's breakout season hasn't been overlooked by the Red Wings. |
As the Phoenix Coyotes prepare for a second straight crack at the Red Wings in the Western Conference quarterfinals, they may find themselves relying on a secret weapon: fifth-year defenseman Keith Yandle.
This season has been a breakout year for the Boston native. After putting up a respectable 41 points a season ago, Yandle exploded on to the 2010-11 scene by finishing with a career-high 59 points – one point shy of team-leader Shane Doan.
Although Yandle led defensemen in points for much of the season, the scoring has slowed down recently — he’s tacked on 5 points since March 1. He had 11 multi-point games this season, including a three game stretch in Janaury where he had a goal and five assists. Still, Yandle finished up the season third among defensemen – behind Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky (68) and Red Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom
(62) – and is considered a top contender for the Norris Trophy.
“He’s been great,” Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler said. “He’s really broken out this year and he’s just one of those guys that kept seeming to get better and better as the year went on.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock knows that Yandle is one of the guys his team must pay special attention to heading into the series, along with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Shane Doan.
“I think when you look at their team guys that jump out at you right away are Bryzgalov, (who) is one of the best in the game,” Babcock said. “And I think Yandle is a kid who has really, really come on as a dominant player.”
For Yandle, his recent success is primarily a matter of feeling more comfortable on the ice.
“Probably the most important thing is confidence,” said Yandle, who had two goals and an assist against the Wings this season. “You feel better about yourself every year, getting another year under your belt.”
With his 11 goals and 48 assists, his offensive prowess has commanded attention around the league. Yet Yandle acknowledges that the key to his team’s success is his tough defensive play.
“The thing I got to do best is defend and play good in my own end and get your opportunities on the power play, stuff like that,” he said. “I think for us to be successful we have to play good defensively, especially against a team like Detroit. I got to focus on that more than the offensive stuff.”
And this time around, it’s a little more personal for Yandle, who hasn’t forgotten about last spring when his team’s playoff hopes were dashed by the same team they look to face this time around.
“You still have that bitter taste in your mouth from losing that Game 7,” Yandle said. “And it just happened to be against these guys who we’re playing against this year. Maybe it’s a little chance to redeem myself and show them what we have.”
Still, there’s no bad blood for Yandle, who talked about how much he respects the team in the other locker room, especially fellow Norris contender.
“Obviously Lidstrom is in a class of his own,” Yandle said. “He’s probably the top three best to ever play. I don’t think really anybody is in his league. To be even mentioned with him, it’s a great honor.”
Based on his breakout regular-season, it’s no secret that the Coyotes are looking to him to lead them deep into the playoffs.
“If we’re going to be successful in the playoffs,” Fiddler said, “he’s going to have to continue to (improve) and we don’t expect anything less out of him.”