GLENDALE AZ - DECEMBER 11: Brad Richards #91 and Steve Ott #29 of the Dallas Stars scrum with Eric Belanger #20 and Scottie Upshall #8 of the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on December 11 2010 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Good afternoon, Phoenix Coyotes fans. Starting this week, the FFH roundtable will now be a weekly Monday feature. In this volume, the FFH staff discusses the fate of two of the Western Conferences big name teams, a couple of big name upcoming hockey events, surprising and disappointing Coyotes players to date, and how the team might fare on their upcoming road trip.
Through the first third of the regular season (or thereabouts), the Red Wings are showing that they aren't interested in relinquishing their recent success while defending Stanley Cup Champs, Chicago, are struggling a bit following their cap purge. At the end of the regular season, which team do you see sitting in a better position?
Jordan: As much as it pains me to say it I think that the Red Wings are looking every bit as good as they were the past several years, while Chicago just doesn't look right. Can Chicago turn it around and be dangerous at the end of the year, absolutely, but I think the Red Wings will be the team to beat in the Western Conference. The good news is that the Coyotes match-up well with Detroit and play them very tough.
Carl: The Wings look to be a much improved team, in comparison to last year's injury riddled season. Detroit is on pace to record 117 points which is 15 points more than they ended last season with. Individual players like Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom are on similar trajectories. Down I-94 The Blackhawks roster took a hit depth wise due to cap issues in the offseason. The loss of guys like Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and John Madden will hurt the Hawks all year long including in the postseason. Unless the Wings have a rash of injuries like they did last season I expect the Wings will have a better regular season record and be better set up for a long postseason run.
Travis: Detroit. Unfortunately they're still the same team they've always been plus Mike Modano, though he hasn't been huge for them. The Blackhawks shipped off a ton of depth with all their cap issues and with Patrick Kane out for a few weeks that gives them even more time to keep sliding. I just don't see the Hawks coming back from that deficit. At least not enough to overtake Detroit.
Winter is just around the corner (though you wouldn't know it if you live in the Valley). The Preliminary camp rosters for the World Junior Championship teams were released over the past few weeks. The HBO 24/7 series on the Winter Classic begins this Wednesday. With those things in mind, which winter event are you more excited to watch, the IIHF World Junior Championship or the Winter Classic?
Jordan: I don't know what you mean - it's freezing in my house. I'm excited for the Winter Classic because it is such a spectacle and is a bit of fun, especially if there is snow. The World Juniors will probably be more interesting because I don't have a dog in the Winter Classic fight, but the visuals of the outdoor game are always fun and with the HBO 24/7 build-up, maybe I can even find a team to care about more.
Carl: Easy choice, right? I'm a Caps fan. In addition, The Winter Classic has become the NHL's hallmark event and HBO is doing a behind the scene 24/7 series on this year's event. However, The Winter Classic for all its pomp and circumstance is still just a regular season hockey game for the two teams involved. On the other hand, The WJC is about young players playing in a tournament for their countries. In addition, for the draft eligible players involved, the tourney gives them a platform to improve their draft status. Finally, it allows hockey fans the opportunity to see players before they become household names. The Winter Classics have given us hockey in baseball parks and amazing visuals, but they have never given us anything like this. I'm interested in the Winter Classic only because I'm a Caps fan, but I'm truly excited for the WJC.
Travis: It hasn't even started and I'm sick of all the Crosby/Ovi talk. I was sick of it a few seasons ago. Now I have to listen to build up for weeks up until yet another Capitals vs. Penguins game that I could care less about. The World Juniors are infinitely more interesting to me with all the young players making appearances. There are plenty of Coyotes prospects to watch and while I might not get to see them all, it'll be more fun than all Sid/Ovi all the time will be.
Which player for the 'Yotes has surprised you the most with their play thus far this season?
Jordan: I've been awfully impressed by the offensive performances of Lauri Korpikoski and Martin Hanzal. I expect solid play from each and a few goals along the way with good play on the penalty kill, but they've been adding timely goals all season and really helping push the pack mentality along.
Carl: Lauri Korpikoski's goal scoring prowess is probably the biggest surprise of the season in my mind. When you are setting career highs before Christmas it's definitely a huge surprise. However, the steady play of Nolan Yonkman since being called up from San Antonio has also been a surprise. His game is the same as it was early in his career, but he's a more refined player. He is being smart about when to play physical and when not to. In addition, his passing has been better than I recall it being back in the day. That being said, I have to go with Korpi.
Travis: The obvious answer has to be Lauri Korpikoski as he's got 14 points already, with 6 goals. That includes 2 shorthanded goals along with a 22.2% shooting percentage. For a guy that Tippett likes to use as a responsible PKer and role player at other times he's found plenty of points.
Which player for the "Yotes has been the biggest disappointment?
Jordan: I don't know that anyone has played so poorly that I am displeased, but I've been disappointed in Adrian Aucoin's play. He looks a lot older than he did last year (particularly when paired with Ed Jovanovski) and he's taking a lot more penalties. His production has been almost non-existent which probably is more of a reflection on the types of minutes he is being asked to play, but it would be nice to see more. Of the forwards, Radim Vrbata has not had an awful start, but there have been games where he is almost invisible on the ice. He's got to be stepping to the forefront on this team and taking a lot more shots, particularly on the man advantage.
Carl: Keith Yandle. Offensively his numbers and play have been fine, but his play in his own zone has been substandard. On a team like the Yotes that relies on defense, substandard play in your own zone is a killer. Even taking into account that Yandle is playing better quality competition on the ice this season than last year, his advanced stats and plus/minus numbers are still poor. One could rightly argue that his defensive partner, Derek Morris, should probably take a significant share of the blame as well for his numbers. The others I considered besides Yandle and DMo were Shane Doan and Wojtek Wolski.
Travis: It's hard to pick one guy as a disappointment as everyone has had a game here and there where they've made up for it. Unfortunately the easy answer is Shane Doan. I love the Captain, but with the suspension and his injury sitting him out a few games his luck has been terrible. He's hit a ton of posts, had open chances get stolen and has all around just been unlucky. He's started to break out of his slump lately and while he doesn't have to lead this team in scoring anymore some more goals would be nice.
Starting this Wednesday the Coyotes embark on a six game road trip. How many points do you expect the Coyotes to earn on the trip?
Jordan: 12. Nah, this is a tough trip for the Coyotes swinging through some unfamiliar arenas that haven't always treated them kindly. They should be able to win their games in New Jersey and Long Island fairly handily, and I'd expect them to give the Rangers fits as well. The second half of the trip is where it gets really tough with games against red-hot Pittsburgh, an always tough San Jose team and division-leading Dallas. I'll be happy with 8 points from the trip, but if they don't pick up at least 4 or 5 in the first three games, it could be a low point of the season that the Coyotes can ill afford.
Carl: Given the team's record so far this season on the road and their competition this time around I'm going to say 7 points. The Rangers have played better on the road this year than at home, so a sweep of the NY/NJ area teams is not out of the question given how poorly the Devils and Isles have been playing. The problem is the Pens and the Stars are tough to beat at home. The games in San Jose were all close affairs last season and I suspect they will be again this year.
Travis: 8. While there are some tough games in the stretch, the Coyotes can take the Devils and Islanders as the two worst teams in the league. I don't think a split of the other 4 games is unrealistic as they've done well against the Penguins in recent meetings, though I'm not banking on it this time. The Rangers are beatable and then we've got some key division matchups against the Sharks and Stars. If I had to pick 2 of those 4 to win I'd obviously take those Pacific games.