In this week's edition of the Roundtable, associate editor Jordan Ellel and contributor Carl Pavlock are joined by well known Arizona broadcaster Kevin McCabe. McCabe has worked at media outlets around the state and currently hosts Calling All Sports Saturday with Mike Grose on KDUS 1060. He was also a member of the hockey team at NAU while in college. The focus of this week's Roundtable is on the Coyotes' first couple weeks of the season.
Why do you feel that the Coyotes are suddenly having success on the power play?
Kevin: The Coyotes recent success on the PP is simple....keeping it simple! In the first few games while trying to find their timing, players were looking to make the perfect pass, trying to find a teammate back door for a bang-bang play or a one timer. These look great on the highlight reels, but they are challenging even when a team is in full rhythm. Instead, it appears they've got back to just getting "the puck on net'...good things will and have been happening as a result
Carl: I think it is probably less about the Coyotes suddenly being better offensively, I think that the lockout has just made the other team's defense terrible. We saw a lot of unusually high scores in this first series of games, and that is translating into more power play goals.
Jordan: The thing I've noticed the most is that they are not settling into stagnant positions and just passing the puck around the edges. All five players on the ice (or six counting the goal at the end of the Oilers game) are constantly moving around trying to open up lanes and find empty spaces. The puck still isn't moving super fast from player to player, but the movement of the players is allowing them to maintain greater puck possession and put more shots on net. Also, I've noticed that they are doing a better job with the net front presence from guys like Nick Johnson or even Antoine Vermette.
The Coyotes went from having great depth up the middle with Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Matthew Lombardi, Boyd Gordon, Alex Bolduc, to an injury-depleted position. Do the Coyotes need to renew explorations to shore up the center position?
Kevin: Haven't we tried to answer this question for the past 15 years with the ‘boys....needing a bonafide first/second line center? Krys Kolanos...Kevin Porter...Peter Mueller...Kyle Turris.....it would have been nice to see one of ‘em emerge as a star. See Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane , Jonathan Toews! Still, while the Coyotes should see what's out there, I'm not sure anyone that's on the market is it worth giving away a young talent in Oliver Eckman Larson or all star Keith Yandle (in every Coyote trade rumor). While I look forward to Raffi's Return, perhaps they should go get a guy like Dustin Buyfuglien....who has fallen out of favor in Winnipeg and could be had, perhaps moving him back to forward where he can wreck havoc and recapture the magic that made him a star and overpaid
Carl: Maybe long term, but right now I think it would take too much time for a center to adjust for it to be much good. It took Vermette a long time to really come into form last year. I imagine it would be similar with a new center this year. Andy Miele could hopefully be brought up as well to cover any new gaps.
Jordan: It sounds like perhaps Hanzal will be coming back soon and Bolduc has filled in nicely so far, so I don't think there's any need to rush into any trades. I'd still prefer them to look for a sniping winger than a center, but certainly adding offensive depth always seems to be a need for this team.
It was assumed by many this would be Jason Labarbera's last year in a Coyotes sweater, due to this being the final year of his contract if nothing else. Does Chad Johnson's play the last two games combined with Mark Visentin and Mike Lee's play in the minors all but assure Barbs exit?
Kevin: I actually feel bad for Barbs....its one of the hardest jobs in hockey....the back-up goaltender. Sure, sit there on the bench most nights and be ready to play at the highest level on a moment's notice. Try and stay sharp when you have to do most of the work in practice....you're not going to risk losing your starter on a fluke high shot. Bring a kid up from the minors who has been game sharp starting nearly every game in the AHL. Still its performance based, and while "Barbs' has just been "ok" in his relief role, I still think having a veteran back-up with this team is the best way to go, at least for now.
Carl: Johnson played great for two games, but that may too small a sample to know if he is ready next year. As for Visentin and Lee I have not seen them play so I can't vouch for them, but I doubt they are ready to spend the full season at the NHL roster. At this point I would not be surprised if Barbs gets one more year.
Jordan: I think Visentin and Lee are more of an issue for Barbs than Chad Johnson who has been very impressive in his two starts. I think if Visentin is ready to make the jump after his year with Portland and a full NHL camp, then Barbs is likely gone, but if the team wants to get Visentin some more experience, Barbs is a good locker room guy and can probably be signed to be assistant equipment manager (err, backup goalie) fairly inexpensively.
The Coyotes play the Dallas Stars in back to back game this weekend. Why do you believe games between the two squads seem to come down to the wire in the past 2 seasons?
Kevin: Dallas and the Coyotes mirror each other in many respects, but certainly with the Dave Tippett influence. Recall "Tipp" worked his same magic with the Stars for 7 years....although with the forty-somethings Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney they boast some veteran scorers. By the way I thought the back to back, home and homes would create great theatre? Haven't seen much of it.
Carl: I think that the Stars and the Coyotes are very similar teams that match up in a way that leads to very close games. They are also division rivals, so they are very familiar with each other's playing style. Also, I think this year Dallas has a bit more potential offense, which is why I don't think that the games will be as close this season, but they also have some good defense and a great goaltender.
Jordan: Are there any team the Coyotes play where it doesn't come down to the wire? I don't know that there's any particular reason, but the teams are somewhat similar with a solid goaltender and lack of run-and-gun mentality. For the Coyotes it's generally because they lack the offensive depth to play that way, for Dallas it's been generally because they lack the defensive depth. Not sure there is anything particular about the match-up between Dallas and Phoenix that makes it more intense than other teams, but seeing each other so much certainly breeds that familiarity and expectation for a long night.