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41 DOWN AND 41 TO GO

Wednesday, 01.09.2008 / 4:05 PM / Features
By Heath Price-Khan
After a dominating performance in Calgary, which saw the Phoenix Coyotes arguably play their most complete game of the season, we have reached the midway point of what may be a defining campaign for this franchise. This magical ride for a team that was given very little chance by experts to be a factor in the playoff race is far from over. Hard work and great chemistry have proved to be the perfect mixture for this special combination of veteran leaders and young stars.

With 41 games in the books, we decided to take a look at: "What We Know", "What We Like", "What We Expect", "What To Watch For", and "What We Need."

"What We Know"

Ilya Bryzgalov and Radim Vrbata
Call me "Captain Obvious" if you like, but the acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov has completely changed the perception of this organization. You will not find teams resting their #1 goalie against the Coyotes as in years past. Bryzgalov arrived in Phoenix when the team was 7-10 with the belief that this team was a playoff contender. At 22-18-1, he continues to have that feeling, and everyone else feeds off it.

We also know that this is the most special crop of rookies this organization has ever had since it moved to Phoenix. Peter Mueller has the best vision of anyone on the team and, after 41 games, you can almost say that he is no longer a rookie. He plays with the confidence of a veteran, and is rewarded with the ice time to prove it. When you add in the contributions of Martin Hanzal, Daniel Winnik, Daniel Carcillo, and Keith Yandle, you have a bright future which is making the present a lot of fun.

Another thing we know is that Mike Milbury must be eating his words for questioning Wayne Gretzky's ability as a coach. Take a look around the NHL and tell me who is doing a better job than #99. Anyone who follows the NHL would have to include the Coyotes head coach in the conversation for mid-season coach of the year.

"What We Like"

We like the effort every night! This team works hard, and everyone seems to not only know their role, but be comfortable with it. How many times have you seen a player complain when he is scratched or not getting as much ice time as he feels he deserves? There is none of that on this team, and that is a wonderful thing to see.

You better believe we like our captain Shane Doan! He could have left the Coyotes as a free
Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski celebrate
agent and gone to any team, but his commitment to this franchise has been unwavering. No one deserves to play on a winning team, and get into the playoffs more than this loyal star who will one day have his number in the rafters at Jobing.com Arena.

How can you not like our defensemen? Rock solid is the best way to describe the men who patrol the backline for the Coyotes. Derek Morris leads the team with a +10 rating, and has done great things at both ends of the ice all year. His partner, Keith Ballard, has been an assassin with the hip check, and is as reliable as they come. Ed Jovanovski leads the group with 25 points, and has made a ton a big plays. Zbynek Michalek was injured early in the year for 7 games while the Coyotes struggled to a 2-5 record. His return to the line-up cannot be overlooked as a huge moment for this team since they are 20-13-1 with “Z” on the ice The “Big Four” combined with Nick Boynton, Matt Jones and recent call up Keith Yandle, have given Ilya Bryzgalov a lot to smile about.

"What We Expect"

We expect to be in the hunt for the playoffs for the final 41 games of the season. This team has not given us a reason to believe otherwise. The combination of Bryzgalov and Mikael Tellqvist in net gives the Coyotes a chance to win every game.

"What to Watch For"

Don Maloney has delivered two of the biggest moves this organization has seen in a long time with the acquisitions of Bryzgalov and Radim Vrbata. Will the first year GM make a key move before the trading deadline on February 26th at 3PM EST? Will we see a collegiate star, like Hobey Baker Award candidate Kevin Porter, join the team after he completes his senior season at Michigan? Whatever happens, one thing is for sure, Don Maloney and his staff have done a fantastic job.

"What We Need"

Phoenix Coyotes Celebration
We need a packed house at our upcoming home games before the All-Star break. The fans should be loud and proud about what this team gives them on a nightly basis. Feel free to lose your voice screaming and yelling. The Coyotes are 14-8 on the road, but only 8-10-1 at home. This team has earned the right to have a home field advantage. Make Jobing.com Arena a building that other teams hate coming to because of the noise. If this team is going to make the playoffs it will have to flip the script at home in the second half of the season.


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