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The Five for Howling Roundtable - Coyotes Scuffling

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Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. We are back after our brief one week holiday hiatus. This week's edition of the Roundtable features among other things our newest staff members, The Dude and Jonathan Zaun. We discuss the Yotes injury woes, possible reinforcement choices, Raffi Torres' on-ice behavior, and the goaltending situation.

Has Mike Smith's absence from the Coyotes net been the reason for the team's recent slide?

The Dude: I wouldn't say that it is the only reason but it definitely plays a part. I think the Boyd Gordon and Martin Hanzal injuries also play a part in the slide. But there have been problems that have been around for the entire season; defensive breakdowns especially in front of the net, failure to capitalize on the power plays, and the Coyotes have been allowing the first goal for various reasons and they have been chasing the game which they have problems doing.

Jordan: I don't think it has been the whole reason, but it certainly hasn't helped. I have been more frustrated with the defensive play, particularly from a guy like Keith Yandle in his own end, than the goaltenders. While Jason LaBarbera has let in some soft goals, there have been a lot of plays that he just shouldn't need to be making that save (the game winner in Colorado comes to mind here). Barbs is a #2 guy for a reason though, and getting Smith back is a key for this team.

Carl: I think Hanzal and Gordon's absence is a much bigger reason than Smith's. The team is struggling with faceoffs and puck possession and that puts more pressure on the team's defense and goaltending. In addition, they are the team's two best defensive centers. As was shown late last season when he was out and even when he returned and obviously wasn't 100 percent, Hanzal may be the most important player on the entire roster.

Jonathan: With many fans questioning Smith's ability before the season started, and even during his strong start, I find it ironic that his injury has coincided with the team's worst slump of the year. Judging purely by the numbers, it's clear that the Coyotes have suffered without Smith between the pipes, as they've gone just 2-3-1 in the six games since his injury. However, in the six games prior to Smith going down, all of which he started, the 'Yotes were 2-4-0 and lost games in disturbingly similar fashion. This overall slide (4-7-1) is probably more attributable to the offense's lack of production, rampant defensive breakdowns and key injuries across the roster. With that said, a goalie who can get hot and turn in a 35+ save performance on any given night is a luxury that I'd rather have in net than on the bench.

Travis: Not the only one, but it certainly hasn't helped. Just look at how many games have been close just to have the Coyotes cough the game up by one or not be quite able to come back. That's not to say that Smith would be perfect or make those saves, but he's enough of an upgrade over LaBarbera and McElhinney to be more than noticeable. I'm more prone to blame the skid on atrocious defense and the team's inability to win any important face offs with Hanzal and Gordon out.

GM Don Maloney has been forced to call up a number of player's this season, especially recently, due to injuries. Is there any player who hasn't been called that you would like to see in a Coyotes sweater this season?

The Dude: I would rather the people who were injured come back, and there are no more injuries so there is no need to call up anyone this season.

Jordan: I definitely think at some point Brett MacLean should get an extended look as I mentioned in my article the other day - he's one of the true goal scorers that the Coyotes have in their system and that is something desperately missing from this squad. If Andy Miele adapts well to the change of position to the wing, he should also see another opportunity to find a spot. A final intriguing guy is Brock Trotter who was acquired from Hamilton earlier this year and has played very well with the Pirates.

Carl: I would like to see Brett MacLean for the same reason Jordan stated above.

Jonathan: To be honest, my knowledge of the Coyotes' minor league system is probably not up to date enough to provide an informed answer. I will say that I was pleased to see Andy Miele get another call up, and I feel like if he is given enough playing time his natural talent will eventually shine through. With the team fighting tooth and nail for every point in the dogged Western Conference race, however, I can definitely see why management has decided to let Miele marinade in the minors for a bit longer.

Travis: I'd say Brett MacLean, but I doubt he clears re-entry waivers. I would like to see Goncharov get a game or three if he gets called up again. Haven't seen the big Russian play much and he's yet another young defenseman that could be big down the road.

Raffi Torres played the role of agitator this past week. Do you think Torres' play was helpful, hurtful, or didn't matter?

The Dude: I'm not sure how helpful it was, the Coyotes were 1-3 this week and Torres didn't really seem play the agitator role as much during the winning game against the Wild. I like Torres playing a physical game, but he scored 2 goals against L.A. so I would like to see him as a goaltender more than an agitator especially with the three losing games being one goal losses. If he was drawing penalties from his play putting the Coyotes on the power play and they were able to capitalize on that with a goal I would definitely say that play like that would be helpful, but that didn't happen.

Jordan: I think Torres helps far more than he hurts. I'd like to see him avoid some of these questionable plays, but I think timing was a bigger issue on the hit on Jan Hejda than how he hit him (regardless of what Dater says about it). Torres brings a lot of grit to the team and they feed off of that - that he also has added 6 goals is just gravy. I've been very impressed with Torres all year.

Carl: I think for the most part it didn't matter to the Coyotes. However, being on the league office radar is not a good thing for Torres individually. When he keeps the elbows and shoulders down he's a very effective player as he showed in the game against the Kings.

Jonathan: I think more than Torres' left eye was bruised in his fight with Boston Bruins' bully Adam McQuaid. After having been bludgeoned and bloodied in front of a standing room only, sellout crowd at the Job, Torres was likely embarrassed and out for revenge the following night. His controversial elbow to the head of Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda was, in my opinion, a late shot delivered unnecessarily and dangerously, so in that respect his play has been hurtful. This team is not one which can afford to go on the penalty kill every time their tough guy gets the itch to throw down, so Torres should try to relax and find his goal scoring touch. I'd prefer to see the Raffi who lit up Los Angeles for two pretty goals, rather than an agitator who draws negative attention to a franchise sorely in need of positive pub.

Travis: The hits obviously weren't the best, but I do kind of feel the suspension was for more than the hit he actually delivered and more for the borderline hits he kept having. It's unfortunate because take away those three hits and he was very effective at bothering the other team, generating chances and creating turnovers. He just got a bit too far over the line there a few times where as other players know when to back off the gas a bit.

Based on Curtis McElhinney's stellar performance on Saturday night would you start him against the Blues or would you go back to Jason Labarbera if you were Dave Tippett?

The Dude: McElhinney did great on Saturday, I think it may be a good idea to have him start again against the Blues. He made some great saves throughout the game and more importantly remained calm during the last few minutes of play, which have been a weakness of the Coyotes this season, and he didn't allow any goals. To me that earned him the St. Louis game.

Jordan: Well, I'm not Tip, so thankfully I don't have to make this call, but I'd probably give him another shot. It's not as if he doesn't have plenty of time to rest, but if this Smith injury is going to linger and McElhinney is going to start a few games, might as well ride him while he is feeling it and Barbs is fighting the puck a bit.

Carl: If I was the coach (fanbase rightly shudders) I would likely go with McElhinney tonight and start Barbs on Thursday against the Kings.

Jonathan: As we all know, in hockey you have to ride the hot hand. This is especially true when it comes to goaltending, and as much as I like Jason LaBarbera, the team would be better served by starting McElhinney in net against the Blues. His 28 save effort against the Wild featured a few of the spectacular saves this defensive bunch seems to need once or twice a night. LaBarbera certainly deserves recognition for being a stalwart backup, his play has tailed off severely as the season has progressed and the starter's role became his. In his first 4 appearances in December, in which he allowed only 3 total goals, 'Barbs came in as a reliever 3 times. In his 5 appearances since that run, all starts, LaBarbera has surrendered 3, 3, 4, 2, and 3 goals respectively. In fact, the backup's first 4 appearances of the season were all starts and he allowed 2, 5, 2 and 4 goals these games. Clearly, the starting goaltender role is not one which suits Jason LaBarbera, while it may fit Curtis McElhinney just fine.

Travis: I think it just depends on who looked good in practice. McElhinney may have earned the start though as Dave Tippett is a guy that definitely believes in guys playing the way into ice time. I say give Curtis the start as LaBarbera is typically good for a relief game or two and then falters for a while