In this week's edition three members of the staff chat about what they've seen so far from the Desert Dogs. This week's participants are associate editor Jordan Ellel and contributors Ed Chavez and Carl Pavlock.
The Coyotes rely on Dave Tippett's system and goaltending for success, rather than a highly skilled lineup. Did the short training camp and lack of pre-season games hurt the team because of their reliance on a system?
Carl: I think it did hurt the team in the short term, but I think it will make them a more effective team later in the season. The team is off to a slow start, we can't deny that, but once the team slips into the system I think they will be a better team. It will take some time for the guys to get used to each other again and once that happens and the system clicks I am sure they will be successful, negating the early damage.
Ed: Yes and no. While the Coyotes are returning with an almost identical team from last season, the new additions weren't given the proper time to adapt to the system. But, I think what may be the biggest killer for the Coyotes this season is the lack of real game experience during the extended off season. Only a few players went overseas or down to the minors. Only time will allow the team to shake off the rust. Unfortunately, they don't have a lot of time this season.
Jordan: I think so. Even though there was very little turnover from last season, just getting back into the groove can be a challenge. The teams that we see having success early on (for the most part - Pens, Blackhawks, Boston) have a fairly high skill level with players that have been together long enough to just go with it. There haven't been a lot of low scoring shutouts thus far, but that will come with time.
What is your biggest concern about the team after watching the first two games?
Carl: Defensively the team has not been great, although that seems to be true for every team around the league. The Yotes have just been allowing way too many goals, and the plays in the defensive zone have not been what we usually expect from the team and it is really preventing them from winning. I do not think this is a concern long-term though, like I said I think the system is going to click and the defensive issues will be solved through some adjustment, if they haven't been already in the practices after the two games.
Ed: The defense. The Coyotes' bread and butter is its shut down defense, but in the first two outings this season, they've made major mistakes. Not clearing the zone, sloppy passes and turnovers in both the offensive and defensive zones have lead to great scoring chances and goals for the opposition.
Jordan: I think the defensive responsibility from top to bottom has been a concern. Too many turnovers and players that aren't just making the simple play to either get the puck out of the zone or put the puck on net. But I wouldn't classify any of this as a major concern yet, just some stuff that needs to get straightened out quickly.
Mike Smith's performance in the first two games of the season, just a minor bump in the road or cause for real concern?
Carl: I think it is just a minor bump. He is definitely still a little rusty, but I think that it has a lot to do with the guys in front of him as well. I think he will bounce back.
Ed: As much as it may just be a minor bump, you can't ignore the numbers. 10 goals let in during the first two games. That is scary, but in a system that relies heavily on defense, Smith's play can't and won't get better until the men in front of him get better.
Jordan: Minor bump in the road. I think he needs a good meeting or two with Sean Burke to calm him down. One thing I noticed is that he is almost over-emphasizing how far back he is staying in the crease which hurt him a few times in the Chicago game (the Sharp goal most notably because he wasn't out far enough to cut off the angle for that snipe). I think watching some film and getting back to the positioning and aggressive play that made him so successful last year will get him back on track quickly.
Returning to the place where he posted his best career season, do you think Matthew Lombardi can become a dangerous forward again?
Carl: He's fast and if he can score I would consider him a pretty dangerous forward. I am expecting him to be a productive forward who has a role to play, who hopefully generates some offense and scores some goals. Looking at his numbers after he left Phoenix, I'm not entirely sure he can return to the same form when he played here before.
Ed: I don't believe we'll see him reach 53 points, at least this season. I do think he can begin returning to form in the desert. Being that there were many factors involved in his poor play of the last two seasons (concussion and neck injury) anything can happen. Tippett's system doesn't require just one person to rack up all the points, it's a group effort. A system I can see Lombardi excelling in again.
Jordan: I never saw Lombardi as a really dangerous forward of the Radim Vrbata or Mikkel Boedker mold, but as somebody that can put together solid numbers while playing a strong two-way game, like a Lauri Korpikoski. I do think that he will thrive in Phoenix if he can stay healthy.
What were some of the positive things you noticed in the first two games?
Carl: Offensively I thought the team looked good. Scoring 7 goals in two games, and getting 2 power play goals in one game is not something I expect from the Coyotes, and I was also pleasantly surprised by that. Also, the team isn't quitting when they are down and they aren't just giving up which is a good thing.
Ed: The Offense. The scoring touch we saw last year is still there and can be built off of. With Whitney gone, many feared the hole he'd leave in his absence but it looks like someone forgot to tell Vrbata and Hanzal. A full season with Vermette won't hurt either.
Jordan: The power play, when it has gotten set up, has produced a few goals and gotten a few good scoring chances when it has not converted. Now, getting set up hasn't always been pretty but that will come with time. Radim Vrbata has picked up where he left off and looks to be shooting the puck a lot, which is good. Also, I like that the defensemen (most notably Keith Yandle and Derek Morris) are looking to put the puck on net more often as opposed to just cycling it down the boards. They are still hitting too many shin pads, but the aggressiveness to put pucks on net is a good sign in my books.