In this week's edition we take time during the team's mini-break between games to discuss where things stand 16 games into the season. Our special guest is Phoenix Coyotes radio host Luke Lapinski. Joining Luke are contributor Brendan Porter and myself.
With the long break in between games this week which facet of the game do you expect will get emphasized the most in practice this week?
Luke: Dave Tippett suggested after Monday's game that they'll probably work on a few different elements, then see which ones they need to focus more time on as the week progresses. I'd guess the power play will get some attention. It was fairly effective to start the season, but has dissipated a bit lately. The Coyotes don't allow a lot of goals, so they don't necessarily need their power play to be the best in the league. They just need to be able to cash in on the man advantage in key moments - especially when trying to grind out road wins. Beyond that, we'll probably see some fairly standard practices, with an emphasis on working guys back in as they get healthy without disrupting the on-ice chemistry the lineup has shown lately.
Brendan: I think the biggest thing that the Coyotes will work on in practice is their timing. A lot of what they do depends on guys being in the right spots and making the right passes. A lot of their turnovers are caused by misreading a play or missing an assignment. I expect that to be their biggest focus, since they'll have a significant amount of time to get it right.
Carl: In years past the automatic answer would have been the power play. This year all facets of the Coyotes game have worked well in short stretches, even the power play. My guess would be Coach Tippett stresses system fundamentals and improving their forecheck, but I'm just spitballing.
Luke: Tippett usually has a pretty good feel for what to do in situations like this. In fact, I think it's one of his best qualities as a coach. He just always seems to know how to balance his lineup in a way that minimizes the effect of injuries and maximizes his players' abilities. If it were me, I'd keep rotating that sixth spot until someone seizes control of the role. That way, you keep the players hungry and going all out to fight for the spot, while also rewarding them with playing time as they earn it. A major reason guys like playing for Tippett so much is that they know their hard work will be noticed and appreciated when he's behind the bench.
Brendan: Short season or not, I think the constant rotation of the 6th defenseman is a big liability for the Coyotes. Of all the good things Dave Tippett does, my least favorite thing is how the bottom tier players on the 4th line and 3rd pairing get very little playing time in most games. That position will improve only if the guy playing it has a chance to settle in. With Morris coming back soon, I expect Rundblad will be the go-to guy so he can keep improving the power play.
Carl: I don't know about rotating guys in and out every game, but I have no problem with playing one guy for 2-3 games and then having him sit for a game or two. All three, especially Rundblad are young. Normally defensemen don't start hitting anywhere near their peak until they are in their mid to late 20's because the position is the hardest to learn. Stone was given 10 games to prove himself and never really did. Summers and Rundblad have looked decent paired together the last two games and definitely better than their initial games this season. I'm sure the coaching staff would prefer someone to stand out or for all 3 to make their decision a hard one because they are all playing lights out, but until someone does I expect we'll see all 3 guys rotate through the lineup.
With the season 1/3 over, are the Coyotes about where you expected them to be, better than you expected, or worse than you expected?
Luke: I'd say this is about what I expected. The Coyotes don't traditionally start off all that hot, but they always seem to get better as the season progresses. And, obviously, you'd rather have your club evolve throughout the season, instead of peaking early and falling off when the games matter most. Just over four weeks in, they're right in the thick of the playoff race and - more importantly - we've already seen significant improvements in a variety of areas. That bodes well for the rest of the year.
Brendan: They're about where I expected them to be. When the season started I thought the Coyotes would end up somewhere in the 6-8th spots, and that's exactly where they are now. The good news is that their recent play has been trending upward, so there's reason to believe they are going to continue to improve as the year goes on.
Carl: They are right where I expected them to be. I thought they'd finish third in the Pacific and somewhere around seventh place in the West. Given their not so wonderful start of the season and the number of injuries they've had we should probably be thrilled they have 18 points in 16 games. Their play of late has been much improved. In addition, Shane Doan normally heats up as the season progresses, so I don't think we've seen the best the Coyotes offense has to offer yet.
On Monday word was that the Coyotes expected Matthew Lombardi, Derek Morris, and Radim Vrbata to all be in the lineup for Saturday's game in Edmonton. With a fairly healthy squad what are your expectations for the Western Canadian road trip?
Luke: Grabbing four out of six points again would be great. That's what they did on the last trip and, honestly, it's not as if they're playing above their talent level at the moment. They're getting points and winning games in a way that seems pretty sustainable. Then again, that tends to happen when you have a strong goalie, good leadership and a balanced attack. The key in the upcoming week is doing well against Edmonton and Calgary. Beating Vancouver would be nice too, but I think it's fairly safe to assume the Canucks will be in the 2013 playoffs either way. Keeping the Oilers and Flames - two teams that missed the postseason a year ago - in the rear view mirror is very important in a short season like this.
Brendan: The Coyotes in recent years have been surprisingly good at the Western Canada road trip. I believe they will put themselves in a position to win all three of those games, especially with guys like Vrbata, Lombardi, and Morris back in the lineup. I think 4-6 points is a reasonable expectation for this swing.
Carl: The Coyotes went 4-1-1 against the Western Canadian teams on the road last season. Even with Edmonton improving (and beating Phoenix earlier this season) I don't see any reason the Yotes shouldn't have the reasonable expectation of winning all 3 games. Given the early start time in Edmonton and a game the following day in Vancouver, plus what I suspect will be a motivated Flames team next week I say they either take 2 out of 3, or take one and force the other two in extra frames. I'm expecting 4 points.