Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this week's edition of the Roundtable, the Five For Howling staff looks back at Shane Doan's suspension, the upcoming schedule, the play of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and who should win the team's Hardest Worker award.
1. Of the five remaining games on Phoenix's schedule, two are against clubs the Coyotes haven't beaten all season, the Blues and Blue Jackets. Which of the other three games to you expect to be the toughest?
Jordan: I think given the status of the Western Conference playoff race, the game on Thursday against the Sharks will be the toughest on the schedule for the Coyotes. It's the epitome of a must-win, and win in regulation type of game. Hopefully the Coyotes will be well-rested and ready for action and have some key players returning to the lineup (Doan, Vrbata, Pyatt and Aucoin?)
The Dude: I do not think that any of the teams remaining are going to be particularly easy, even the ones that we have beat before. The fact is that the Coyotes have lost their last match against all five of the teams we are going to be playing. I think that the game against the Ducks may be the toughest. They aren't playing for a playoff spot which means they aren't likely to leave anything in the tank and they have beaten us the last 3 times they have faced us. Also for whatever reason we seem to have trouble with teams that on paper we should be able to beat, just look at the fact the Blue Jackets continue to beat us.
Carl: I agree with Jordan and his comments. If it is anything like this past Saturday's night's tilt fans of the other 28 teams in the league should be in for treat.
2. Coyotes fans are being asked to vote for the team's hardest working player this week. Of the choices the team has offered up, who would get your vote? Is there anyone who wasn't nominated that you would have added to the list of choices?
Jordan: My vote would go to Boyd Gordon. He's not the most talented player of the bunch, but he gets the most out of his abilities - blocking shots, winning faceoffs and generally being a big pain for the other team's top players. His injuries cost him some significant time and also had the misfortune of being at the same time as Martin Hanzal's injuries which really hurt the team with their combined absence. But there are no bad choices on that list. Of the player's not nominated, Oliver Ekman-Larsson gets my vote because he has transformed his game so much over just one year that he is playing top line minutes in all situations and basically doing everything well (more on that later).
The Dude: I voted for Mike Smith, he has been in net a lot this season and so many nights the game really depends on him. There are a few reasons that we are in the playoff race right now and great goaltending is one of them. I would have personally added Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the list, for me reasons see below.
Carl: Like Jordan, my vote would likely go to Boyd Gordon. Mainly due the fact he's been solid all season long. I certainly would have no issues voting for any of the others nominated. You could add several players to the list, but the one guy I would add before anyone else is Rostislav Klesla. Rusty works his tail off every shift, much of the time against the other teams best players. Also, his work on the PK has made a huge difference for the team.
3. Has Oliver Ekman-Larsson becomes the team's best all-around defenseman?
Jordan: I would say so. The disappointments in his game from a year ago (lacking defensive awareness and pinching at inopportune moments) have all but disappeared. He gets the most out of his physical size and has upped his hitting game, while providing a huge spark of offense to the blue line. His maturity in quarterbacking the power play also has improved greatly and will just continue to get better as his career progresses. He's not going to get a Norris nominee this year, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if he enters that discussion soon.
The Dude: OEL may be the team's best all around defenseman right now. First, he spends a lot of time on the ice, for instance 31:01 against the Stars last week. He also is involved in the offense, he has 4 goals and 2 assists this month, and only 4 people defensemen have scored more goals then him this season. Pretty much every game we are talking about how he is consistently playing great, more than we are talking about many other players especially other defensemen, and that consistency I think makes him the best right now.
Carl: Yes. In the last month or two I think he's really refined his play in both zones. He's gotten better positionally and learned when to pinch and when not to. The physical part of his game has appeared this season as well. He's turning into a complete defensemen before our eyes. He certainly doesn't look like a 20 years old playing in only his second season in North America.
4: What are your thoughts on the Shane Doan suspension and the team's response in his three game absence?
Jordan: I thought that the suspension was just about right. The timing was awful from a Coyotes fan perspective, but Doan needs to know better than to stick his elbow out in that situation. Given his history (as unfortunate as that is as well), I think Shanahan got it just about right, especially by hitting Duncan Keith with 5 games for what seemed to be a far more reckless play. The team shuffled through the three games at a 1-1-1 clip (while also missing key cogs Radim Vrbata and Adrian Aucoin). It was probably a bit disappointing, but they got the job done well enough to stay right in the thick of things. If they can win 4 of the last 5 games, the Pacific Division crown and/or a playoff berth are well within their grasp...hard to ask for anything more at this time of the year.
The Dude: I think the suspension was justified, it was the right amount of games for an elbow which was unintentional and did not cause an injury. I do not think it was a dirty play, it was a stupid one, and I do not think that Doan is a dirty player, no matter what some bloggers and podcasters would suggest, but he definitely needs to make sure that he doesn't do anything like that in the future otherwise he will be looking at a larger suspension, which would probably also be justified. I think that the team has performed pretty much how I expected them to play before he was suspended. The only outcome I didn't predict was the SO loss to San Jose, I thought that would be a win, but the win against the Avalanche and the loss to the Blues went along with my prediction. I think they didn't play as tight as I thought they would though, but hopefully Doan's return will change that for the remaining five.
Carl: I thought three games was the right amount. It was a blatant elbow. I thought the team responded ok. It's not just his absence the team was dealing with either. Adrian Aucoin and Radim Vrbata were every bit as missed as the Captain was.