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Holy Jumpin! - A Darren Pang Blog
 
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HOLY JUMPIN!: WHAT IT TAKES DOWN THE STRETCH

Tuesday, 02.03.2009 / 6:27 PM / Holy Jumpin! - a Blog by Darren Pang
By Darren Pang
Parity is everywhere.

It has been in the NHL since the lockout of 2004-05.

So by now the players, coaches, media and fans are all very much aware of how difficult it is to make the playoffs.

There are roughly 30 games left.

In the Western Conference, as of the writing of this blog, there are six teams within six points of the eighth and final spot. The 14th-place team (Colorado) is six points away with Nashville and LA, while Vancouver is only one point back and Phoenix, Columbus, Edmonton, Minnesota and Dallas all have the same amount of points, 53. Only two games ago, the Coyotes were holding the fifth spot in the West, only to lose two consecutive games by 2-0 scores, and three overall…..and Holy Jumpin!…right in the 10th spot.

Wayne Gretzky has been saying it for two months now. Don’t get too excited. You win a few and you are in the playoff picture. You lose a couple or three, and you are right below the line. You just can’t get too high, nor can you get too focused on the line that separates the playoff teams from the outsiders. You also can’t lose more than three games in a row. You have to manufacture points, no matter how tough.

You really have to learn from experiences. Last season when the Coyotes were looking strong and were right in the hunt, they narrowed down an actual number that was needed to make it. They openly spoke of “HUGE” must-win games, and when they didn’t win them, well, the morale, from everyone involved in the team, went south. You could see it on everyone’s faces and in their demeanors. How could you not show it? It was much too black and white. The problem with that is when you lose. What is there next? When you say it is the biggest game of their lives, and they lose, what do you do the next day? How can you get them to re-group and re-energize?

The game was in Vancouver, a must-win that ended up being a tough, hard-played, 3-1 loss. They played well. Very well. The next night in Edmonton, the Coyotes battled back to tie the score 4-4 in the third period, only to lose focus and the game 7-4. For all intents and purposes, the season, and the team morale, was done.

The lesson is much clearer now than it was then. You can’t give up. As the Coyotes lost steam and the playoff poise needed, the Oilers took that win from the Coyotes and battled so hard, they came from below the Coyotes and nearly snuck in. They missed it by just three points. I am sure they learned an awful lot from that experience. They will be in the race until the bitter end this season, I guarantee it.

The Coyotes will too, as Wayne Gretzky has an uncanny knack of keeping things in the present. He also learned from last season and that is why he analyzes the game so well, especially after losses. He breaks it down as a simple matter of fact.

The last few games, losses at San Jose and vs. Buffalo, the power play has gone 0-13.

The effort and spirit of the team was excellent. The execution on the PP was not. He doesn’t take away all the good things that were done, he gets right to the point.

Big players that get on the PP have to be big players. They have to be difference-makers at important times. He will play the heck out of Olli Jokinen and Shane Doan in games at Nashville and at Detroit.

He will also put rookie Kyle Turris on a line with Jokinen and fellow rookie Mikkel Boedker, as they ended the last game against Bufflao with many good chances.

It doesn’t get any easier for Gretzky and company, but maintaining an even, business-like approach for every game, and for every morning the team wakes up and looks at the standings, will be essential when it comes to making the playoffs.

Panger

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