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The Five For Howling Roundtable - Highs And Lows of the 2011-2012 Season

Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. With the NHL season winding down this week, we are taking a look back at the season. We look back at the some of the surprises and disappointments in the Valley and across the NHL.

What was the biggest surprise for you in the NHL this season? The biggest disappointment?

Jordan: I'd have to say the Florida Panthers. I think people were skeptical of all the moves Tallon made during the offseason and just wasn't sure how things would shake out. Now, it helps when the whole division around you just can't seem to play to its potential (or relies on a 43 year old goalie who had a remarkably lucky run last year), but it's still impressive that a decade long playoff drought is likely coming to an end...bring back the rats! As for a disappointment, two teams that might yet make the playoffs but certainly wanted much more top my list - the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks. So much talent, so many expectations and just nothing going right. At least the Caps can point to a seemingly never-ending string of injuries that have kept their core of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green off the ice together for all but 10 games, but what's up with the Sharks? Just a hugely disappointing year for San Jose, not that I'm complaining.

The Dude: I was surprised about the realignment plan, and I was kinda surprised that it did not go through. The plan is very different from what is currently in play and it was announced soon after I started really following the news so it really stands out. I don't really have any big disappointments this year regarding the NHL.

Carl: The biggest surprises for me were the Senators and Panthers play. I didn't expect either to play as well as they have. Dale Tallon and Bryan Murray should both garner plenty of votes for GM of the year. The biggest disappointment for me is pretty much everything surrounding the Washington Capitals. What a mess. The results, play, coaching, culture, management decisions, etc. The Caps owner Ted Leonsis really needs to look at his entire organization from top to bottom this offseason.

What was the biggest surprise for you with the Coyotes this season? The biggest disappointment?

Jordan: The incredible play of Mike Smith and the sudden transformation of Oliver Ekman-Larsson from uber-talented prospect-y defenseman to best overall player on the ice on a nightly basis. I think we could have predicted that Smith would have more success than he had last year in Tampa Bay, but his transformation into nearly a Vezina finalist with multiple lengthy shutout runs is just remarkable. As for OEL, he made the progression shown by Keith Yandle over several years in one summer. It's unbelievable how much his overall game has improved since last year. As for a disappointment, Martin Hanzal and Taylor Pyatt have missed some lengthy stretches of the year due to injury and that has really hurt their overall numbers. Hanzal does so much other than score points, though, that I'd have to say Pyatt is the bigger disappointment. And Jason LaBarbera has had his roughest season in Phoenix and that has been a shame since he is such a good guy overall.

The Dude: I think the biggest surprise with the Coyotes was the month of February and how they did not lose a game in regulation. I honestly expected a good record during the month, but I did not expect 11-0-1. The biggest disappoint is related to that, I did not expect them to start March with such a slow start, not getting a win until their 6th game against the Sharks.

Carl: Mike Smith is definitely the biggest surprise in my mind. I expected him to be better under the tutelage of Sean Burke, but I was thinking he would have a save percentage around .912 not his current mark of .929. While I expected Oliver Ekman-Larsson to be much improved this season and eventually expected him to turn into a Norris trophy level D-man, I certainly didn't expect him to progress so rapidly. Like OEL, I knew Rostislav Klesla would have a better season this year than he did after his trade from Columbus last year. However, like OEL I didn't expect such a vast improvement. Klesla has turned into the team's best defensemen and his value , especially, on the penalty kill can't be overstated.

As for disappointments there are two major ones in my mind. The first is the power play which was dreadful most of the season. I expected with Whitney being back and healthy that it might improve. Sadly, it didn't. The other issue was it wasn't just one issue that kept the power play from being successful. The second disappointment has been the lack of development in Keith Yandle's game this season. His play in his own zone looks at times as if it has regressed if anything. Hopefully this summer he will spend a ton of time looking to improve his work along the boards, positioning, and decision making.

What is your favorite moment of the NHL season so far?

Jordan: Even though I somehow missed this game live, the Shane Doan hat trick was simply incredible to watch. Pretty much the entirety of the month of February was pretty spectacular as was the games against San Jose and Anaheim this past week. Ray Whitney's 1000th point was another truly memorable moment. It's been a pretty darn good year. Let's just win a few rounds in the playoffs and find an owner and it will be a perfect one.

The Dude: Hands down my favorite moment was being in the crowd when Shane Doan got his hat trick. It was amazing. Everyone went crazy after the puck went in at the wire. It has been a while since it happened and I still do not really have the words to describe it, the only thing that comes to mind is "Wow."

Carl: I think it may have happened on Tuesday night in Glendale. Mike Smith's 54 save effort probably just beats out Shane Doan's hat trick. Two moments that may be rather big still haven't happened yet. Steven Stamkos still has a shot at scoring 60 goals and the Panthers could end their 12 year playoff drought.

Do the Coyotes make the playoffs?

Jordan: I think so. The team is firing on all cylinders right now and getting healthy at the right moment. They've struggled with St. Louis and Minnesota earlier this year, but I think it will be a different (fully operational death star-esque) version of the Coyotes that will be coming out of the tunnel the next two games. I think they are ready to steamroll anyone in their path en route to the playoffs and possibly a Pacific Division crown...

The Dude: I think that the Coyotes are going to make the playoffs, although I'm not sure that they are going to overtake the Kings for the Division lead though. Right now it looks like the only way they aren't going to make it is if they fail to get another point and Dallas manages to win their next two, and I do not think that that is going to be the case. All that's left to do is figure out who they will be playing.

Carl: Yes. I assume they will find a way to get a point in one of the next two games, though it won't be easy.