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Phoenix Coyotes Roundtable: Olympic Dark Horses

Sebastian Norén from SvenskaFans joins FFH to discuss the Olympics, defense and what's going on with David Rundblad.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The Phoenix Coyotes have allowed 40 goals since the season has started. What is the reason behind this and what can be done to fix it?

Sebastian Norén: I wish I knew the reason, because then I would probably have a job waiting for me on the coaching staff. It just seems like the team is turning over the puck way too much in the defensive zone and the opposition capitalizes on the chances given. Giving up over three goals per game is unacceptable for a team like the Coyotes whose bread and butter has been solid defense ever since Dave Tippett took over as head coach.

Jordan Ellel: So far on the season, they've allowed more than three goals per game. However, in only four games have they allowed more than three goals - six goals against the Islanders, seven against the Kings, four goals against San Jose, and 4 goals against Edmonton (in a winning effort). These four games represent 21 of the goals allowed, more than half in just 1/3 of the team's games. Otherwise, they've been doing a good job of keeping the goals allowed in a reasonable range. You'd like to see the number be a bit lower, but right now I think it just looks bad because of a few games that haven't had the opportunity to become the outliers that they really are. If Smitty can notch a few shutouts in the next month, the number will look fine.

Carl Pavlock: I think it's a combination of two things, defense and goaltending. The Coyotes defense has definitely made some mistakes in their own end which resulted in some Grade A scoring chances for their opposition, which will hopefully be addressed in the near future. Smith has also not been as solid between the pipes as we hoped he would be this year. He has let in a few soft goals here and there. Both of these areas need to be addressed, but the good news is that they are hopefully fixable problems with enough practice and getting rid of bad habits.

Are you concerned about Mike Smith's workload so far this season?

Christopher Hair: Yes. Jason LaBarbera wasn't resigned mainly because the coaching and management lost faith in his ability to be a reliable backup. Thomas Greiss was brought in to be a guy who could spell Smith and earn 20 or so starts. So far, he's been in mop-up duty (twice) more than he has in starts (once). He looked good in his game against the Flyers and hasn't gotten another shot since. Smith has been shaky, and maybe there is a fear of him losing some confidence if Greiss gets starts, but if that's the case, why did they sign him to the huge contract extension? Smith will be fine in the long run, but Greiss should be playing more than once every 10 plus games.

Sebastian: I'm OK with him starting as many games as he is, but he's facing way too many shots each game. He's already faced around 400 shots. The defense needs to start blocking more shots so that Smith doesn't need to make 30+ saves every night he's in the net. The coaching staff seems to have a really high opinion of Thomas Greiss (I'm still warming up to him) and logically he should be seeing a lot more starts before the Olympic break in February as the schedule is really condensed.

Jordan: I'm always concerned about Smith's workload as he's never played a full season without some sort of injury sidelining him for a few weeks. Particularly where Thomas Greiss has looked good in his limited playing time, I don't see why Smith isn't getting a few more days off as we get going this season, particularly with the second game of back-to-backs.

What current Phoenix Coyote could emerge as a dark horse candidate for an Olympic roster?

Sebastian: I don't know if I would call Mike Smith a dark horse, but the competition for a goalie spot on team Canada's roster is pretty tough. Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo are given in my opinion, then it's a race between Smith, Carey Price and Corey Crawford. Jonathan Bernier might also battle his way into the discussion. If Derek Morris can keep up the level of play he's shown so far, he might have a shot if team Canada wants a solid veteran.

Christopher: Before the season started, Mike Smith would have been my answer. But at this point in the season, he hasn't been good enough to force Team Canada's hand in deciding on him.

Right now, I would say Antoine Vermette is making a case to be a late roster addition for his dominant work in the face-off circles, plus he is playing some really good all around hockey. He would be an effective 4th line forward in games against Russia and the US. But it's a long, long, long shot for him to make this happen.

Jordan: I don't know that there are any dark horse type of guys for the Olympics for the Coyotes. Vrbata, Hanzal, and Michalek should be surefire picks for the Czech Republic team; Yandle's got a really good shot at making the US squad; OEL is definitely playing for Sweden; Boedker will definitely play for Denmark. The Canadians are just so deep that it is hard to see definite picks for Coyotes on that team. While Doan, Ribeiro and Smith are probably the front-runners of all the Coyotes, a guy like Antoine Vermette may also generate some attention if he continues to win almost 60 percent of his faceoffs and put up some offense too.

Will David Rundblad ever see significant playing time for the Coyotes or is he destined for the trading block?

Sebastian: Unfortunately I think my fellow Swede is heading for the trading block, unless he gets the chance in a couple of games and absolutely plays his heart out and puts up points on the board. His preseason was very promising and I honestly thought he was finally going to get a fair chance to not just keep a spot on the roster, but cement himself as an NHL defenseman. He has so much skill, especially on the power play, and it's a shame that he's currently wasting away being a healthy scratch every game. He was a bit unfortunate to be on the ice for the two horrible games against the Sharks and the Islanders at the start of the season.

Carl: I would like to see Rundblad get significant playing time and I believe he will in the near future. I think the issue is that the Coyotes defense has not been as good as it has been in the past and scoring hasn't really been much of an issue these first few games. As we move forward, especially after watching the Kings game, I think the teams around the NHL are going to tighten up and Rundblad's offensive abilities is going to translate to more ice time.

Jordan: It's difficult to understand exactly what the issue is here, but it's clear that Tippett sees something in his game that he doesn't like. I'd hope he gets another rotation through the lineup in place of Stone or Schlemko at some point to see if he can really earn his spot. Unfortunately, 1-3 games here and there make it hard for a player to find any rhythm on the ice. If they can't give him more a consistent opportunity to play, I'd say he's destined to be packaged for a forward...heck, maybe try playing him at forward.

Jaime: #FreeRundblad