Greeting Phoenix Coyotes fans. The Desert Dogs embark on a four game East Coast road trip this week. The trip is the main subject of this edition of the Roundtable. This week the FFH staff is joined by special guest Luke Lapinski. Luke is currently in his fourth season as radio host for the Coyotes. In addition to listening to his work on radio broadcasts, you can also follow him on Twitter.
What are your expectations for the Coyotes upcoming four game East Coast Road trip?
Luke: I think four out of eight points is realistic and fair. If they could grab a few more that would obviously be better. But this is an extremely tough stretch coming up. And, in my opinion, the most important game of all was actually the San Jose game on Saturday. Now that they've avenged that rough opening night loss and shown they can win in the Shark Tank, splitting points on the east coast swing would be acceptable. To me, at least, Dave Tippett probably has a much higher number in mind.
Travis: I'm hoping they bring back at least 6 points. I'll be happy if they torch Bryz on Thursday and can beat the Leafs today. Let's be honest though, I WANT ALL THE POINTS! Surprisingly as well though for such a long road trip there are no back to back games. That should offset at least some of the fatigue they typically go through on extended roadies. Also Jason Labarbera and Biz should beat the Caps at Beer Pong the night *before* the game instead of after. Hungover Caps are sluggish Caps. ;)
Jordan: I expect more of the same type of play we've seen recently - disciplined defense, solid PK, good to stellar goaltending and varied scoring outputs. I'm not going to say I'm confident about these games because you have some really high powered offenses, but the Coyotes played really well in San Jose shutting down the Sharks and that could be a huge momentum push going east.
Carl: I expect the team to come home with at least four more points. If they continue to stay out of the penalty box I think 6 points is extremely likely. They have no back to back games on the trip which is a huge plus. They have gotten points in 5 out of the 6 road games they've played so far this season. In addition, their style of play is perfect for the road.
Which opponent on the road trip do you expect to give the Desert Dogs the most trouble?
Luke: This is one of the more difficult hockey questions I've been asked in awhile. It's an absolutely brutal road trip. Every single team they face is dangerous for very different reasons, so it's definitely going to test what the Coyotes are made of.
Toronto has the top scorer in the league in Phil Kessel, Buffalo always seems to have the Desert Dogs' number (might dodge Ryan Miller this time, but Jhonas Enroth has actually been the better goalie of the two so far this season), and Ovechkin seems to deliver his most ridiculous goals against Phoenix. He's one step away from swinging in on a trapeze and smacking the puck out of the air if he wants to outdo some of the previous highlight reel scores he's put up against the Coyotes.
Above all though, I think Philadelphia could cause the most problems. They have a dangerous mix of physical players and finesse guys who can score. Their young forwards like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are clearly coming into their own while players like Jaromir Jagr - who came into the league when MC Hammer was popular - are still getting it done in impressive fashion. Plus, you know Bryz is going to want to play his absolute best game against his former teammates. I'm not sure if that works in his favor or the Coyotes' favor but, either way, it'll be interesting.
Travis: Buffalo. I don't know why really, but the Coyotes seem to have issues with them. It always turns into a mess of a game penalty and score-wise. Even without Ryan Miller the Sabres have a pretty decent team that plays a gritty style as always under Lindy Ruff.
Jordan: I'm most worried about Philadelphia (with Washington a close second). The Flyers are currently rolling three very fast, offensively-creative units and a fourth line that grinds the play and actually wreaks some significant havoc (when they aren't taking silly penalties). The Flyers biggest weakness has probably been a discipline issue and that won't necessarily be exploited by the Coyotes lack of spectacular power play. Ilya Bryzgalov is the wild card here as either he'll feel he has something to prove to his former teammates or the Dogs will show that there's some lingering anger at his playoff performance last year. No matter what happens, I'm sure I'll be more upset than I should be about it, but it could be a very good game.
Carl: I'm with Travis on this one. Buffalo. The Coyotes are 0-2-1 against the Sabres since Dave Tippett's arrival. I don't expect the Sabres to miss a beat with Enroth in goal. The other three matchups are more desirable. The Leafs are reeling without Optimus Reim, the Flyers are an undisciplined mish mash, and the Caps have looked ordinary since Mike Green's injuries have kept him out of the lineup.
Besides Mike's Smith's stellar work between the pipes, what other factors do you attribute to Phoenix's commendable start to this season?
Luke: First off, I know this question explicitly says "besides Mike Smith", but I just have to point out how great it is to see him performing as one of the better goalies in the entire NHL right now, especially when so many people wrote him off (and the team for some reason even though they've made the playoffs two years in a row) before he even played a game in net for the Coyotes.
To me, two things have stood out thus far. For one, Phoenix doesn't give up power play goals. They just don't. They allowed three in six chances on opening night; they've allowed three total goals on 47 chances since. Three power play goals allowed over 14 games is flat out ridiculous. If they can keep this up, they're going to win a lot of hockey games again this year. Because they've been so successful in the faceoff circle and have only taken 59 penalties all season - among the lowest in the NHL - I'm inclined to believe they can keep it up, though maybe not quite at such an insane pace.
The other factor that I really think ended up helping this group in a roundabout way was the fact that they got embarrassed in game one. Everyone on the team said afterwards that their performance in San Jose on October 8 was simply unacceptable. Of course, anyone can say that; they've actually gone out and done something about it. Every team is going to have bad nights over an 82-game schedule, but the Coyotes didn't even look like the Coyotes in that one. Thing is, it is better it happened on opening night because it essentially jolted them right into midseason form in a hurry. The fact that this club routinely learns from their mistakes and remedies them is one of their best assets
Travis: The Penalty Kill, along with the lack of needing it. The Coyotes have taken the least amount of penalties of any team in the league and even when they have they kill them off. It's a nice change of pace from the PK units of the past that were okay at the best of times. The discipline shown by the team from top to bottom has been impressive.
Jordan: I would say that the defense, particularly the play of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Schlemko have really been a large factor in the start. Both are seeing significant ice time and performing exceedingly well, bringing offense pressure as well as considerable strength in their own end. Along those lines, the penalty kill has improved dramatically since last year. Now this may still be a mostly Mike Smith issue as there has been far too much zone time and pressure generally during power plays, but the Coyotes are killing them off and that has been a significant improvement for this squad. Finally, the play of Ray Whitney at 39 has been unbelievable. If it weren't for how well Jaromir Jagr is also playing, I'd say that he was far and away the MVP graybeard in the NHL thus far, but for now I'll just call it a draw.
Carl: As everyone else has already mentioned, the penalty kill has vastly improved from last season. From an individual player standpoint Boyd Gordon, Ray Whitney, Rusty Klesa, and David Schlemko have been the stand outs. Gordon's faceoff and penalty kill skills have been a huge asset for the team, especially with Marty Hanzal being out of the lineup for a bit. In addition, Gordon is currently on pace to have his best offensive season ever. Whitney is back to being the player he has been through most of his NHL career. Amazing how being healthy helps one's play. Finally, the Klesla-Schlemko pairing has been amazing. While I expected both to have good seasons, I certainly didn't expect them to be playing as well as they are much less together.