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The Five For Howling Roundtable - Early Goals, The Defense, And The Other Conference

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Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this week's Roundtable, the FFH staff discuss Phoenix's recent early game troubles, the Yotes blueline, and the race for the top and bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race. There is no special guest this week, so you are stuck just reading our takes. Our apologies in advance.

Why in the last month or so the Coyotes have decided to spot opposing teams a couple of goals before getting off the bus?

Jordan: Oh if only I knew...I think it actually just speaks to the fact that it's a long season and your team goes through ebbs and flows. Certainly this is not something that I imagine the team or coaching staff is terribly happy with. The starts haven't even necessarily been too bad, but some of the defensive breakdowns and bad bounces certainly have seemed to jump right out of the gate. At some point, at some level, I'm sure that players are so concerned with not making a mistake that they actually are playing a bit too conservatively and forcing themselves into bad situations that actually create those same mistakes. Then once they are chasing the game, they open up and play more aggressively which nullifies some of those issues. But that could all be a load of crap. In the end, it's a bad precedent to be setting, it's one that they need to address however they can and quickly.

The Dude: I think the Coyotes have started thinking of themselves as the team that comes back from behind and I think that as long as they think of themselves that way they are going to fall behind. It could be the psychology degree but I have to believe that it is at least a little bit psychological, and they are being rewarded for falling behind with some points. I just hope that it turns around soon.

Carl: I think at this point it has gotten into guy's heads. The defensive breakdowns themselves have been mainly due to decision making which is all mental. If it were just one or two player's at fault or Mike Smith struggling it would be one thing, but it seems as if most of the roster has been at fault at one time or another during the stretch.

Assuming Adrian Aucoin comes back from injury soon, if you were in Coach Tippett's shoes who would be the six defensemen you would choose to start and what would the pairings look like?

Jordan: Contrary to most folks, I don't see a benching for Keith Yandle being the immediate solution. Do I think Keith has made more than his share of bad turnovers, sure. But I also think his ability to create offense does more to help the team than his occassional blunder. If it were January, I might recommend he spend a night in the press box seeing the play from up there and reset his psyche. It isn't going to happen though. What I would do is get him far away from Derek Morris and get him paired up with Aucoin again because that seemed to help his play a lot. The top pairing is easy, Rostislav Klesla and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have easily deserved that position. Then you have 4 guys for the final two spots, and I'm not sure how I would go. I really liked the way Chris Summers and Michael Stone were playing, but I understand that they are rookies and probably playing more minutes than they should be expected to before it shows that they are rookies. But I would be quick to give both of them spot starts in place of either Morris or David Schlemko until I was confident that both of them are fully 100% out there.

The Dude: The 6 defensemen are going to be Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Adrian Aucoin, Rostislav Klesla, Keith Yandle, David Schlemko, and either Derek Morris or Michal Rozsival depending on who is playing better that day. Not sure what the pairs are going to be though.

Carl: My top six in pairings form would be Klesla-OEL, Aucoin-Yandle, and Morris-Schlemko. I also wouldn't stick to this top 6 every game. I would rotate the other guys in on occasion to keep everyone fresh. Schlemko and Rozy have not looked the same since coming back from injurie, though Schlemko's issue appears to be more about getting back into game flow. Normally I would put Rozy ahead of Morris, but not right now. Rozy has been a step slow. A little more rest might do him good. The bottom two pairs have the traditional left-right shooting combos which I prefer.

Also, I think Yandle needs a night off soon. I can live with some of his turnovers. As a puck handling defensemen you are always going to have a fair share of those. It is his play in the defensive zone that concerns me. He is spending way too much time trying to poke check the puck away from guys instead of using positioning. I have been wondering for some time if he has nagging injury that is causing him to shy away from contact or if he's simply regressed.

Any idea who is going to wind up in the 1/8 playoff in the Eastern Conference playoffs?

Jordan: It does seem as if it's the most exciting race going right now in terms of three teams battling for the top spot while the teams vying for 8th don't seem to really want to win any games at times (unlike 8th in the West where every team just seems to win every night). If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that the Rangers right the ship and hold on to the top spot just eking out Pittsburgh and that the Capitals hold on to take the 8th position. But I also might just be kissing up to Carl, who probably would just assume see the Caps fail to make the playoffs so that they don't falsely believe everything is fine with their organization right now.

The Dude: Pittsburgh in the top spot and Washington in the last spot.

Carl: No one else seems to want to dislodge the Caps from the eighth spot, so I'm guessing they hold on. As to Jordan's comments above, I am torn. On one hand I always want the Caps to make the playoffs. On the other hand, the organization may not address the systemic and personnel issues they have in the offseason if the team makes the playoffs. As for the top spot, I'm not sure who take it. I feel that the Pens are the slightly better team now that they are healthy. However, with so few games left, I'm not sure they catch the Rangers.