SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 08: Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes makes a save against the San Jose Sharks in the second period during an NHL hockey game at HP Pavilion at San Jose on October 8, 2011 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Greeting Phoenix Coyotes fans. This week the FFH staff looks at what we've seen so far from the Valley's hockey club as well as what NHL teams have surprised us most early in the season. Please keep in mind many of these initial impressions are likely to change as the season progresses.
Four games into the season what are your impressions of the 2011 - 2012 Coyotes?
Jordan: So far they remind me a lot of the team from last year; defensively solid with offense coming from a number of different sources. Really liking the maturation of Oliver Ekman-Larrson as an early storyline for the season. And after a dismal first game, the penalty kill has been really quite good since, so that is another concern from last year put to rest. The goaltending has been just fine as well even without Bryz in net.
Carl: The team is mainly what I expected so far. I expected the power play to be improved, the 1st line to produce more, and the young defensemen to play well. I find it hard to judge the team given that two of the games they played were against fairly weak rosters. I think we'll be able to judge things better by the end of the month.
Ben: After the rough start in San Jose the team defensively has looked great, especially with the blue line contributing almost half of the Coyotes goals.
Travis: As is kind of typical of the last few years they seem to play differently each game. They got behind fast against the Sharks, played the Stars very close or a SO Loss and then when on a scoring march against Nashville and Winnipeg. Even in the big loss though they came back and at least made things respectable. They seem to be playing very hard and aren’t getting down even when frustrated by the opposition.
What has been most surprising about the 2011-2012 Coyotes so far?
Jordan: Special teams play for me has been dramatically improved. Both the power play and penalty kill look significantly upgraded from a year ago although the personnel hasn't really changed at all. I know Tippett has taken over the power play and I'm assuming that Jim Playfair is working the PK, but it's just been a treat to watch out there.
Carl: I'd have to say the penalty kill improvement along with the play of two players. Keith Yandle's play has been a bit disappointing. On the other hand, Mike Smith has played better than I expected so far.
Ben: I'm with Jordan, special teams play has been great this year both power play and penalty killing.
Travis: Two things – First, we actually have offense! Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Laarson each have 3 goals a piece four games into the season. Doubt that keeps up, but it’s a good start. Second, goaltending has actually been solid. Outside of the first game against the Sharks both Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera have stepped up and played well. They keep it up people might get that the system and goalie coach Sean Burke are the real assets, not completely the guy that is/was in the net.
What team around the league has surprised you most so far?
Jordan: I don't know that I'm too surprised but the New York Rangers just haven't looked at all like a team that went out and spent a lot of money in free agency to improve. Boston has had quite the Stanley Cup hangover so far and can't seem to score goals which is a bit odd, but I'm not complaining.
Carl: The Avalanche by a country mile. While Semyon Varlamov was expected to improve their goaltending, most people assumed their blueline was going to be a disaster. So far that hasn't been the case. The team is in the top ten in terms of goals against per game (2.17). The question now is if the start is a mirage or can the Avs keep their play at this level for 82 games.
Ben: I would have to say the Avalanche and the Islanders, both young squads, with a lot to prove.
Travis: Can I say Winnipeg losing all their games, well, until last night against the Pens… Actually I’d say the Avalanche being 5-1-0 has to be a shock thus far. They’re supposed to be pretty weak again. Not sure if they’ll be able to keep it up though.