After a disastrous four game road trip, the Coyotes are now 3-8-3 away from Jobing.com arena this year. Can they turn things around on the road, and, if not, can they still make the playoffs?
Matt: I think they can and I say that after watching their effort in the game Tuesday at Los Angeles. The Coyotes outplayed the Kings and had good offensive zone pressure throughout. But in order to be a playoff team, they are going to have to "steal" a few games on the road. Dave Tippett told me on Monday in Los Angeles it's been a real playoff mentality for teams in that they've done everything possible to protect their home ice advantage. Hence the fact many teams in the Western Conference are cleaning up at home, yet struggling on the road. If the Coyotes can continue to play well at Jobing.com Arena and get some points away from home, they should be in good shape.
Brendan: Despite all the hand-wringing among fans (myself included) during the scoreless streak, if you look at how that last game was played you'd be very confident in the team. They had some terrific offensive pressure, they were keeping the Kings to the outside for the most part, Smitty made some solid saves, and the power play showed a little life. I think that effort would be good enough to win most road games. The fact that the bubble to get into the playoffs is as large as it is also makes me think they can still do it.
Jordan: Although the Coyotes continue to struggle on the road, and have for much of the season, it is hard to determine whether there are systemic issues causing the problems or just a combination of a bit of bad luck with some poor match-ups. Certainly anything is possible over the final 10 road games and the Coyotes could make dramatic improvements, but I think having a goal to get back to .500 on the road might be too optimistic. Can they make the playoffs while playing below .500 on the road, sure - but they better win at least 6 of the final 8 home games to pull that feat.
Despite the result in LA on Tuesday, does the team's performance give you confidence heading into the final 18 games of the season? What record do you think the Coyotes will be able to achieve and where will they finish in the Western Conference?
Matt: Yes, the performance on Tuesday is very encouraging from a Coyotes standpoint and it was led by their captain Shane Doan, who tried to single handedly will his team to victory. I'm not saying a shot at the division title and an automatic top three seed is out of the question, but it's probably unlikely at this point given the way Anaheim has played. So if that's the case, the Coyotes will slug it out for a spot from four through eighth. Health will be a huge factor for them and any other team looking to make it to the post-season. But think back to last season when they were down and out at the end of January. The proceeded to go 11-0-2 in February and were on their way. This season, they're right in the middle of a pack of teams looking for a playoff spot. It should be fun to watch in the final month of the regular season.
Brendan: I think the two things that give me confidence down the stretch is that Mike Smith is not playing anywhere near his potential and Radim Vrbata hasn't gotten a chance to get back into the swing of things. I think Vrbata will be able to put up points not just for himself, but for his linemates thanks to additional space his presence on the ice gives them. As for Smitty, I haven't been blown away by his play recently, but I don't think we're seeing the real Mike Smith. If the Coyotes can play with a lead for once and give him a bit of defensive help, I think his confidence will rebound and his numbers will improve again.
Jordan: Shane Doan's performance gives me hope. That's not entirely fair actually because the team played a generally solid game in L.A. and deserved a better result. I like the game as something to build on down the stretch run of the season, but I'm not sure I would say it gives me confidence. If this game happened 30 games into a full season, I'd feel very good; 30 games into a 48 game season, less good. I think it's conceivable that the Coyotes finish the season a few games over .500 - maybe 10-6-2 down the stretch. Whether that is going to be enough to make the top 8, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they finish anywhere between 4th and 15th, to be honest.
With OEL now locked up for 6 more years, do you see the Coyotes looking to move some of their D prospects to try and get more help for the offense?
Matt: That's hard to say, although I'm sure general manager Don Maloney is always looking at ways to improve the roster. If you look at the Los Angeles Kings, they built their championship team from the goal on out. Their success is hard to argue. In my opinion, the strength of the Coyotes lies on their blue line. Yet with that said, I'd be very hesitant to tinker with success. It would have to be a great deal.
Brendan: Even without OEL signing an extension I figured Don Maloney would try and move some of the defensive prospects out. David Rundblad, Michael Stone, and Chris Summers have been on the 7th Dman carousel all season, and don't forget Brandon Gormley is waiting in the wings for a roster spot too. I could see one of those guys getting sent somewhere else to try and acquire a depth player.
Jordan: You certainly have to consider the possibility. GMDM has never been one who is shy about pulling the trigger on a deal and his results have not been anything to sneeze at. The question really is, who is going to be willing to part with the type of offensive talent that the team could use, and will those players be able to play in Tip's system. I think there are certainly teams like Edmonton or Philadelphia that would love to have a David Schlemko, Michael Stone, Chris Summers, or any number of the prospects (Gormley, Goncharov, Murphy) and may be willing to move some talent to get them (Matt Read? Sam Gagner? Jordan Eberle?).
With NHL realignment now being officially approved for next season, are you excited about the planned changes? What parts of the plan do you like? Which parts do you not like?
Matt: I love the realignment! First of all, fans will have the opportunity to see every team, every star player at least once a season. Second, I love the fact that more games will be played within a team's time zone, which will be great for fans.
Brendan: I like that the divisions are more time-zone friendly, and I like that every NHL team will get a chance to play at Jobing.com Arena. I'm not as big a fan of the odd number of games being played between teams. I felt like the original plan of six games against the division opponents and two against everyone else made a lot more sense.
Jordan: I can't really say that I am as up on the changes as I should be - possibly because there's still the whole outstanding ownership situation that needs to be dealt with. I do enjoy that there will be more division rivals that we will see more often and that there will be fewer time zone issues for both conferences as a result of the realignment. I definitely think getting each team into each arena each year is a good thing for the league and something that has me excited, although I was pretty sure that the league was already doing that even without the realign. I'm not sold on the changes to the playoffs although the chance to ramp up divisional rivalries to another level definitely has me intrigued.