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Off The Post: Reasons for Encouragement

Wednesday, 11.17.2010 / 4:04 PM / OFF THE POST - A Blog by Luke Lapinski
By Luke Lapinski
GLENDALE -- Over the last few weeks, seemingly everyone - from fans to media members to random people on the street who were probably wondering why I was forcing them to talk hockey with me - has been asking me the same questions: What’s wrong with the Coyotes? Why aren’t they winning?

Of course, that seems to be changing with their recent surge up the standings and I’m here to tell you why. The following is a list of reasons to be extremely encouraged about this team going forward. A week ago, some of these might have looked like excuses. Now they look like building blocks…

Shane Doan
Injuries: Shane Doan has missed as many games as he’s played, Marty Hanzal spent time on the IR, and the team in general seems to have experienced more nicks and cuts in the first month of this season than they did all of last year. No one on the Coyotes is using it as an excuse, but it was mildly insane to think this team wasn’t going to get better as they got their actual roster together and healthy. Sometimes hockey isn’t rocket science.

Experience: Their most recent meeting with the Red Wings was already their third of the year and tenth in their previous 21 hockey games overall. I don’t know who decided that the Coyotes should have to play that perennial powerhouse that often, but the players definitely took the right approach and learned from it. In fact, they almost seemed to relish it. Over the last two seasons, they’re 6-6-2 against Detroit. Not bad. Plus, now they have that experience to build on and they only have to play the Wings one more time this year. Everybody wins.
Schedule: The schedule’s been fairly brutal. Granted, there’s no easy W’s in the NHL anymore but the fact that they treaded water facing the likes of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa, and Detroit (repeatedly) sets them up nicely going forward.

Resiliency: Does anyone really question this team’s resiliency at this point? I’ll move on…
Coaching: This is a no-brainer. Dave Tippett won coach of the year last season without even really being a part of the franchise during training camp. Who does that? He demands nothing but the best from his players and – maybe more importantly – himself. And he delivers. One of my favorite parts of doing the postgame show is listening to his comments following a game. Two tilts in particular have stood out to me already. After the Ottawa game, he seemed borderline disgusted and the players responded. After the Pittsburgh game, he made a point to let it be known that he recognized and appreciated their effort despite the shootout loss… and they responded. Nothing he says is an accident. Everything is calculated.

The Return of the Wolski: He’s on a tear since being a healthy scratch vs. Detroit and Tampa. I’m pretty sure some of the passes he makes are illegal in 38 states.

Vernon Fiddler
Faceoffs: I’ll keep this simple: two years ago, they were 30th out of 30 teams in faceoff percentage, this year they’re fourth. Do the math. The night Vernon Fiddler picked up his hat trick, he was 14 of 17 in the circles, Eric Belanger was 11 of 17. Those two have led the way in that department all year, with Hanzal and company right behind. It may sound little, but it’s little in the way that being able to swing a bat is little in baseball. If you don’t win faceoffs, you’ll go nowhere when it matters most. This team wins them.

No Fear: This team isn’t intimidated by anyone – I guess 974 games against Detroit will do that to you. Hanzal summed it up best when talking to Todd Walsh during an intermission at the Joe, saying he loved playing the Wings – especially in their building. That’s not arrogance – it’s the attitude you have to have if you want to run with the big boys.

Hat Tricks: Everything I just wrote is really kind of secondary if they’re just going to get a hat trick from someone every couple of nights anyway.

At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, it’s good to see this team having fun again. As Matt Damon said in Rounders, if you’re not careful, your whole life can become a grind. Like every other quote in the history of cinema, that can be directly attributed to hockey. It’s too long of a season for every single second to seem like a grind. We’re still not even a quarter of the way in yet. Maybe the Coyotes won’t reach 107 points again. But I personally would prefer a scenario with a couple less points in the regular season if it meant a deeper postseason run. Fortunately, that’s what this team seems to be built for.
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