GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 07: The Phoenix Coyotes await the start of the NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Jobing.com Arena on April 7, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Good afternoon, Phoenix Coyotes Fans. Welcome back for another edition of the Five For Howling Roundtable Our special guest for this week's Roundtable is Jenna Volden. Jenna runs the Coyotes blog Hip Checks. You also follow her on Twitter. In this week's roundtable we begin to focus on the Desert Dogs push for a playoff spot.
What one thing do the Coyotes need to improve upon most to help themselves
get a playoff birth?
Jenna: The Coyotes need to return to the hardworking team that got them to the playoffs last year. When they all work hard, they win games (or at least have the chance to win). It showed Saturday night against the Wild; we out worked them which helped us to win more of the battles and have more control of the game. There have been way too many games when it appears that no one even wants to play. We don't have the super star talent to coast. The boys need to show up and work every game, every period.
Carl: Improve their even strength play at home. The team has lost 15 of their 26 homes games so far this season. If the trend continues the Coyotes will find themselves on the outside looking in come April. They have 15 of their remaining 28 games are at home. Looking at the numbers the Dogs special teams play has been fine at home unlike on the road. It is the 5 on 5 play where the team has performed poorly on home ice. Fix that problem while keeping the special teams numbers at least average and the Yotes should be able to turn the Job into an inhospitable environment.
Jordan: Defensive zone play. We saw what a team committed to playing defense first could do in the game against the Wild on Saturday night - stifling pressure in their own zone that created offensive opportunities. This was the trademark for the team last year, but they've been a lot more fast and loose this season and that will not work. If they stay committed to playing that style that we saw Saturday night and avoid the costly turnovers, they should move up the Pacific Division standings quickly.
Travis: Consistency. The team knows what they need to do to win. The times they've lost badly is when they try to do something, anything really that doesn't fit with the gameplan they've had for a year and a half now. Play solid defense and make life for the goaltender easy. It seemed like everyone was on the same page in the other night against the Wild, but they have to do it game to game and period to period. Otherwise you get that nasty game against the Sharks.
The Coyotes are seen as a defensively oriented club in the media and around the league. However, given their play this season is the impression accurate?
Jenna: I think the Coyotes have to be more of a defensive club, but I don't think I would necessarily call us a defensive club. We do not have any consistency in scoring. We may score 5 goals one game but then be held scoreless for a few games. Our defense has to work hard to shutdown the other team, especially when the goals aren't coming easy for the Coyotes. On the other hand, many of our dmen are more offensively oriented. They are usually getting in on the play and going down low for a scoring chance, or in Jovo's case, camping out in front of the net. I think the loss of Z has made this a little more obvious.
Carl: No, the impression is not accurate. The Coyotes are more an average team that is isn't more defensive or offensive. Currently they are averaging 2.8 goals per game while giving up 2.83 goals per game. This means they are closer to the top of the league inscoring (11th) than in goals allowed (16th). The defense isn't as stout as it was last season as the numbers show. The continued injuries to blueliners and Bryz's injury earlier in the season haven't helped matters, but even taking those things into account this year's team hasn't shown the willingness to shut teams down like last year's squad did. The plus is the team's scoring prowess has improved.
Jordan: I would still agree with this characterization, although it's been wanting a bit this year, which has been the problem. They are not a talented enough offensive squad to generally play run and gun with teams like Detroit, Vancouver or even San Jose. They are playing their best hockey when they are putting high pressure on the opponent to force plays in the offensive zone and then capitalizing on the counter-attack. When they've failed to maintain pressure in the defensive zone is when they've struggled the most this season.
Travis: I'd still say so. They just haven't adjusted as quickly as they needed to. While defense was a strong point what got the Coyotes to the finish line last year was an offensive explosion after the deadline. This is still a defense first team they've just stopped playing as such for stretches.
Based on their recent play, what player on the Coyotes should be getting more ice time? Less ice time?
Jenna: This is a very difficult question to answer at the moment. I love all my boys but honestly don't think any of them have been playing up to their level. I wouldn't give him more ice time, but when BizNasty plays, he plays all out. Yandle also has been playing well most of this season, but he already is logging quite a bit of ice time. I also think it's pretty obvious that Fiddler has been out of the lineup recently. I would just like to see him back in. I would like to see LaBarbera get a few more starts. I don't like when it seems Bryz is overworked or tired and Barbie gets rusty if he sits too long. And just to stick with my "joke", Jovo can always use less ice time. :P Honestly, I don't think I can pick out one player that deserves less time. They all have had their bad games/streaks. Overall the team needs to step up. That's what it comes down to, hockey is a team sport and we need all the guys firing on the same cylinders and putting in the effort each and every game.
Carl: I'd like to see two players get increased ice time. I chose two instead of one because I'd like to see these two get time together. Lauri Korpikoski and Scottie Upshall. Korpi is having a great season and is still getting less playing time than some of the older vets like Doan which doesn't make sense, especially given Korpi's not a defensive liability like Turris is. In addition, his speed compliments Upshall's game well, similar to Upshall's former linemate Matthew Lombardi. My choice for less ice time won't be a shock for regular readers of the Roundtable. My choice would be Derek Morris due to his defensive liabilities. However, Coach Tippett has already played Morris under 19 minutes three of the last four games. Hopefully that trend will continue as the blueline gets healthier.
Jordan: I am all for giving Kyle Turris a good bit more ice time. He's making plays happen regardless of his linemates (including Paul Bissonnette, who earns a runner-up here) and creating at least a solid scoring chance every other shift. He still hasn't mastered Tippett's defensive system for a center, which is why he isn't getting a lot of third period ice time in tight games, but that will come - I'd also like to see Boedker get on the ice for a game or two and play some meaningful minutes. As for less ice time, I've been disappointed recently with the play of Eric Belanger who is coasting a bit too much in his own end and getting caught out of position, leading to some unfortunate penalties. He's still one of the best faceoff players on the team, so he's going to get crucial shifts, but he needs to bring the type of intensity that Vernon Fiddler does to his game all the time. If not for all of our defensive injuries I'd guess that Sami Lepisto might be spending a night or two in the press box with his recent play (beautiful assist on the Pyatt goal Saturday notwithstanding). Sami is a solid 6th defenseman when he isn't pressing too hard, but his gaffes in his own zone have been costly in this recent rough stretch.
Travis: More - Mikkel Boedker. Why have him here and not play him? Though not sure which wing would take the hit in time to make up for that.
Less- Eric Belanger. He's second among the forwards in ice time and has been infuriating to me. He's not a bad player, but he's also not making a whole lot of moves to warrant that ice time. It's due a lot to Vernon Fiddler being out too, but I'm meh on the guy.