The Five For Howling Roundtable: Mid-Season Grades

Good afternoon, Coyotes Fans.  Welcome to the our halfway point pf the season roundtable. In this edition, the Five for Howling staff grade the Coyotes' performance in a number of key areas.

 

The 2010-11 Phoenix Coyotes Mid-Season Report Cards

 

Defense

Travis:  C.  While I'd like to give them bonus points for the young guys playing decently, the only bright spot has been Keith Yandle and his skating speed. The rest of the veteran players on the blueline have been disappointing. Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin and, yes, Ed Jovanovski have looked just plain old at several times this year rather than just like veterans. The play from the back end is going to have to be better in the 2nd half to get this team to the playoffs. As a team all the players seem weaker on defense beyond just the blueline though. Forwards aren't as ready to block shots or play harder defensively until very recently.

Jordan:  C-.  There is a lot of potential in this group, but of everything that is different between last year's team and the current year's, it's the defensive unit. I'm not sold on the pairings as a whole, although I am encouraged by the fact that Tippett is willing to send out two of our younger defensemen in key spots as a unit...there's a lot of depth in the junior ranks that should turn into a really great unit, but they need to get better at the top. Losing Zbynek Michalek is easily the single change in this team that has hurt them the most.

Carl:  C.  None of the pairings has played above average consistently.  While much maligned, Aucoin-Jovo have been the best pairing in their own zone.  Derek Morris has looked downright awful at times.  In a roundtable a couple of weeks ago I suggested his defensive partner most of the season, Keith Yandle, was the biggest disappointment so far this season.  I made a mistake and I'd amend that now.  After seeing them split up at times in recent weeks I believe Morris, not Yandle is the main problem in the pairing.  Schlemko, OEL, Lepisto, and Rampage call-up Nolan Yonkman have done well playing at different times in the 5/6 pairing.  Without the solid play of the 5/6 pairing most nights the grade might be a bit lower. As Travis mentioned above, the forwards have been a defensive liability at times this year.  The lack of back checking has been readily apparent on far too many goals scored on the team this season.  They have tightened things up in recent weeks.

 

Offense

Travis:  B-.  Compared to last year the Coyotes have done better than last in terms of getting chances. While they're only a little bit ahead of last year's pace in terms of actual goals scored, the offense has driven to the net more frequently and puckhanded much better than I remember them doing in the past. On the downside the Coyotes only have 2 players in double digits in goal scorring as Scottie Upshall has 12 and Shane Doan has 10. They need more players contributing more frequently. Especially players like Lee Stempniak and Radim Vrbata who are expected to put the puck in the net way more than they have.

Jordan:  B+.  While the defense has been a bit of a disappointment, the offense has been generally a bit of a surprise for the better. They can be frustrating to watch at times, but there are good players rounding out four solid lines and it gives the coaches to roll them out the entire game. While I think I'd like to see some of the guys tearing things up in San Antonio get a crack in the lineup, I understand Tippett's dilemma in who to bench. It's still pack mentality and I doubt we'll have anyone crack the 30-goal plateau, but I wouldn't be surprised if we have 7 or 8 guys get to 20.

Carl:  B.  The offense is scoring at a higher rate than it was last season.  The Coyotes currently rank 16th in the league with a GF/G of 2.71.  For comparison, they finished last season 24th with a GF/G of 2.57.  Given the roster talent, being middle of the pack is nothing to complain about. There has been a bit less reliance on the defensemen to score goals this season as compared to last.  Keith Yandle's offensive skills and numbers continue to improve.   The only forward on the roster who is truly underperforming offensively is Wojtek Wolski.  His numbers are below his career averages and his play overall has been brutal.  I've seen and heard a number of negative comments about Lee Stempniak in recent weeks.  If his shooting percentage goes back to normal by the end of the season he will probably end up with around 20 goals this season which is about his career average.  In addition, his play in all three zones has been excellent. I think his goal scoring explosion post-trade last season raised unrealistic expectations among the fans and the media. 


Goaltending

Travis:  B.  Bryz hasn't been quite as good as he was last year (though the defense shares some of that blame) but he's still fared fairly well and backup Jason LaBarbera has performed admirably in 13 starts already this season. At 5-5-3 he's done what backup goalies are supposed to do. Keep the team in games and give them at least a chance to win. He's at .500 against some stiff competition which isn't spectacular, but could be a lot worse.

Jordan:  B.  It's been fairly solid and the defense has hung Bryz and LaBarbera out to dry a bit more than last year, but both have answered the bell. I don't think Bryz is having quite the dominating season he did last year and LaBarbera before his most recent games where he put up a pair of shutouts and a solid effort against Buffalo, hasn't been quite as solid. The OT and shootout play also hasn't rivaled last year's team as we've already eclipsed our OT loss total only halfway through - this will hopefully improve in the second half.

Carl:  B.  While Bryz and Barbs aren't having quite as good a year as last year they are both performing above their career save percentage averages and have been excellent much of the time given the inconsistent play in front of them.  Too many times the goals that have been scored are a result of second and third shots by players unmarked by defensemen and forwards.  Both have let in a softie or two that last year they weren't letting in.  Overall, they have been above average.


Power Play

Travis:  D.  I hate our power play. I hate it so much. It's not often that you wish your team could just keep playing 5 on 5 instead, but with the Coyotes I often do. While they've had games here and there where the PP unit shined, in general the team suddenly can't do anything and actually loses momentum half the time. The team stops playing their game and tries to cycle rather than just play the normal way that works. Sure the other team is focused on defense, but shouldn't be able to suddenly stone the Coyotes from even entering the offensive zone as so frequently happens.

Jordan:  B+.  It's still not perfect and there are power plays where the team can't even get into the zone, but when they do get in this year, generally, they are able to control the play, particularly since the Yandle-Doan point pairing came into existence a few weeks back. There's simply not enough firepower for this team to excel on the PP, but it's a far cry from the god awful performance we've seen in previous seasons and it appears to be getting better.

Carl:  D+.  While it has slightly improved from last season, it is still below average.  The power play unit struggles getting the puck into the offensive zone at times.  They don't consistently win the battle to keep possession along the boards and in the corners when the puck does make it into the zone.  Even when they do possess the puck in the offensive zone, they are at times slow to get the puck towards the net and therefore allow the penalty killers to set up.  For a team with average offensive skill they pass the puck looking for a perfect shot way too much.  If ever there was a team that should be focused on just getting rubber on net on the power play it's this team.


Penalty Kill

Travis:  D+.  Last season a strength of the Coyotes they now rank 25th in the league in penalty killing. Part of the reason is simply the inability of the team to stay out of the box especially early in the season. The PK units would see so much draining ice time that they would just break down. It's an area that should be and has to be better.

Jordan:  D.  Easily the biggest disappointment so far this season as the team gets burned by PP goals frequently, particularly after a noticeably weak call by the referees (think the 4-1 loss in San Jose in late December). Again, losing Z has hurt the unit, but it's more than that with player simply not able to clear the zone when they get the puck and defensemen allowing far too many back-door opportunities. I clamored for the team to improve the PP earlier this year and now it's time to shift the focus and figure out how to get much better killing penalties...or just avoiding taking them.

Carl:  D+.  The PK at home has been average.  On the road it has been atrocious.  Given the amount of penalties the team was taking much of the early part of the season, I bumped the grade up half a letter grade.  The penalty killers minus Lauri Korpikoski have looked anything but energetic on the kill.  The players appear to be too passive at times and guys aren't moving their feet.  For a team that relies on defense and goaltending a below average PK is a recipe for not making the postseason.


Coaches

Travis:  B.  Dave Tippett, Ulf Samuelsson and the rest of the coaching staff is still doing a good job, but it will be hard to top last season. Something is keeping the players from buying in the same way to the system as they did last year. I'm not sure if that's on the coaches or the players, but there are plenty of areas to be improved upon even from the coaches.

Jordan: B.  Judging against what they did last year it's a pretty hard mark to match, given that it was the best season in franchise history. I think it's been a frustrating year for the coaches to watch players like Wojtek Wolski, Lee Stempniak and Radim Vrbata simply not perform at the level that they were for us last year. Also, the long cold stretches from Scottie Upshall and Eric Belanger added to a general feeling that something was wrong with the coaching. I'm not sure I can blame it all up top, but I would like to see Tippett be more willing to give kids like Boedker and MacLean an opportunity to light a fire under those not performing. I'm still not sure what the issue was with Petr Prucha, but since he cleared re-entry waivers, I'm surprised he hasn't been given another opportunity considering what he's done in San Antonio since being sent down. Also, the refusal to mix up the defensive pairings despite the defensive struggles from Derek Morris with Keith Yandle and what seems to be an awfully slow pairing with Aucoin and Jovo. All that being said, the team is still 6 games over .500 and well within striking distance of a home-ice seed for the playoffs if they can get hot for a stretch and nobody is going to mistake the Coyotes roster for that of top teams like Vancouver or Philadelphia, so you make do with what you have. We'll see how the team adjusts over the next 41 games and whether it's enough to get us back to the playoffs and through the first round - anything less has to be considered a major disappointment.

Carl:  B.  Tippett's staff continues to do well with a cobbled together group of mainly veterans.  I'd like to see Tippett give younger guys like Turris and OEL more ice time, especially given that there are players at their positions who aren't having amazing seasons.  the use of Kyle Turris behind the net on power plays. Ulf Samuelsson does an excellent job with the young defensemen.  I'm not sure your average Coyotes fan appreciates how it is for young defensemen to make the NHL transition.  Sean Burke's work with the goalies has been the most underappreciated story coaching wise the last two seasons.

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