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The Five For Howling Roundtable: Thoughts at the NHL Quarter Pole

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Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this week's edition of the Roundtable we discuss surprises and disappointments from the first half of the season, as well as the return of Kyle Turris, and the Desert Dogs goaltending.  We are joined this week by special guest Dave Zorn,  Dave has been in the radio business for twenty years.  For fourteen of those years he's worked for Metro Networks, a radio newswire service now owned by Clear Channel.  For the last seven years he's been their local sports reporter. Dave also does a weekly wrap up show during high school football seasonYou can follow his Twitter feed here.

Who has been the biggest surprise so far for the Coyotes?  The biggest disappointment?

Dave: I know the popular answer will be Mike Smith, who is a worthy candidate. For me, it's the fast progression by both OEL and David Schlemko. Both were healthy scratches many times last year and have now solidified themselves with blue line positions.  Biggest disappointment for me is Keith Yandle.  I figured after the contract extension he would really work hard on his defensive game and it just hasn't shown up consistently yet. Granted he is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, but to be a legit Norris Trophy candidate, he HAS to become better defensively.

Jordan: I wasn't as surprised with Mike Smith as some, but I don't know that I thought he'd be quite as good as he's been. Overall though, I love how quickly Oliver Ekman-Larsson has stepped up his game after last season. You knew the raw skills were there watching last year, but his overall game has just been amazing thus far. As for a disappointment, I have to admit that I'm just not that impressed with what I'm seeing from Taylor Pyatt. Of course, the other night he did exactly what I want him to do and drove right to the net and put in the garbage, but that's just not happening enough in my opinion.

Travis: Surprise? Oliver Ekman Larsson. While we all knew he was a fine player I don't think anyone expected him to find his NHL game so quickly. The playing time he gained from Michal Rozsival being out has really given him a jump to the point that even when Rozsival comes back I don't think OEL would be the odd man out. He's scoring goals, finishing checks, and never looks like a 20 year old player when he's out there.

Disappointment? Derek Morris. Great guy, but man has he looked lost at times this season. Any time the Coyotes get burned on D it seems he and Yandle are the pairing out there. As a veteran guy he needs to be a leader and he's just not right now.

Carl:  Two surprises for me. The first is Mike Smith. While I expected him to be better than he was in Tampa, I didn't expect him to be as good as he's been so far this season.  Along the same lines, I expected OEL to progress this season, but not as quickly as he has.  He's doing everything from pinching in when appropriate to be physical in the corners in his own end. Scary to imagine how good he's going to be in 3-4 years. As for disappointments its the same guy as all last season, Derek Morris.  I had hoped this season would be different, but its been more of the same.

Ben: Honestly Mike Smith, I thought he would be a decent goalie but looking at his play and his numbers, he has really impressed me. In the disappointment department I put Derek Morris, his play has been lazy and sloppy and he has a -6 to show for it. 

Who has been the biggest surprise around the NHL so far this season?  The biggest disappointment?

Dave: I'll go with team as a surprise and say the Florida Panthers. NO ONE saw this coming. It's a great story.  Team in a non-traditional hockey market, left for dead by the hockey media and they are one of the best teams in the league right now.  Sound familiar? Let's see if they can keep building on their early season success.  Disappointment..I'll go with Alexander Ovechkin. You expect more out of a superstar than what he has put forth so far this season. Not only has his play not been up to his norm, but his failure as a captain to control the locker room is pretty embarrassing.

Jordan: Personally, I've been amazed by Toronto's play so far, especially with the goalie injuries they have survived. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are really playing tremendous hockey so far. Despite their recent struggles, I'd also say that Edmonton's play has been a bit of a surprise in a good way so far. As for a disappointment, I'm not really surprised by what we've seen teams do. Washington and Boston have shown that their starts were a bit of aberrations, although I think Boston has been getting pretty lucky recently with their run as well. And although I'm not disappointed, I'm surprised that the Kings have not been better because I really like what they did in the off season; I'd expect them to start climbing the standings as we move forward.

Travis: Biggest Surprise: Brendan Shanahan - Who knew we could have NHL discipline without a spinning wheel of fish? Runner up - Your Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.

Biggest Disappointment: Sidney Crosby. A quarter of the way through the season and only 9 points? Talk about regressing to the mean. (Yes, I know...) Runner up: Winnipeg Jets - I really thought this was their year... /laughs forever

Carl:  The biggest surprise for me is the Minnesota Wild. First year coach Mike Yeo has done an incredible job with a roster that doesn't jump out at you. The biggest disappointment has been the Washington Capitals. Even with a coach I thought should have been fired long ago, the roster still shouldn't have getting blown out by teams with backup goalies and AHL rosters.

Ben: The streaky play of the perennial Stanley Cup favorite Red Wings (I hope they are on a losing streak next week). The Islanders, I picked them as a surprise playoff team early in the season, now not so much...

Do you have any concerns about the Coyotes goaltending situation at the moment?

Dave: Not right now. Mike Smith is a legit Vezina candidate at this point of the year. If he happens to go down, then I am a little worried. However, management has done a good job putting NHL experienced goaltenders in Portland, just in case something happens to either Smith or Barbs.   

Jordan: I don't want to be a downer and Mike Smith has been so good that I don't want to be seen as jinxing anything, but I am a bit concerned. Jason LaBarbera has just not been as good as I think we've seen in past seasons and we're also not seeing nearly as much of Barbs as I expected (possibly because of his play). Smith has never played more than 42 games in a season and he's already got 18 games played out of 22 Coyotes games including the back-to-back on Friday and Saturday last week. I hope that Smith stays healthy, but asking him to play 70 games just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

Travis: Nope.

Carl: In terms of play to date I have none when it comes to Mike Smith. Jason Lababera's play against good offensive rosters, Hawks and Caps, is a bit concerning, but its a a small sample size and he's the backup. The small sample size does bring up my one concern about the goaltending situation in general. Mike  Smith is on pace to play 67 games this season. As Jordan states above, Smith has never played more than 42 games in a season.  I'm concerned not only about injury potential, but also about wearing Smith out. Definitely a situation that bears watching.

Ben: Nope.

What impact do you expect Kyle Turris to make on the Coyotes this season?

Dave: I honestly don't know. I would like to believe he will hit the ground running, which would be good for himself, the team, and the organization. If he wants out of Phoenix so bad, he will have to play with his hair on fire to get out of here. His success will only help himself and the team on and off the ice.   

Jordan: I have high hopes for Turris, probably more so than most others. His offensive skill set is desperately needed on this squad as we simply do not have a center with his type of hands and vision. Now will he be able to grasp the other part of the game that is as important, if not more so, I just don't know. If he's committed to doing it, and he shows the locker room that he really wants to be in Phoenix, then I think the sky is the limit. If he doesn't, however, I think we'll see him get some games in to show his value around the league and then he'll be shipped off before the trade deadline to try and fill some holes down the stretch. Either way, it's good that GMDM got him under the contract he wanted and that he will bring some value to the organization.

Travis: Hard to say. But he's got to be an upgrade over Kyle Chipchura right? And he might be able to do quite a bit if he gets playing time above the fourth line. While I disagree with his tactics, he wasn't wholly wrong in his point. He needs NHL ice time now to make the jump into being a real player. It's time to sink or swim.

Carl:  There is a reason GMDM was adamant about not trading Turris. If Kyle is fully committed he can have a large impact on the team. His stickhandling skills and shot could be a huge help to the power play and potential linemates like Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker. Turris could be the team's first line center which would allow Coach Tippett to move Daymond Langkow to the third line.  While some might be concerned Langkow's productivity might see a big drop off if he's taken off Doan's line, I'm not so sure. Raffi Torres and Lauri Korpikoski have both shown in the past that they can be effective scorers. In summary, if Turris plays the way many, including myself, feel he can than he makse the Coyotes a deeper and more dangerous squad.

Ben: To see ice time on anything higher than the 3rd or 4th line, he will have to make some real noise in either a physical/checking game or with a offensive outburst (or both).