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Tell-Us-Strader: Thoughts as Coyotes Approach the Quarter Pole

Friday, 11.19.2010 / 12:44 PM / Tell-Us-Strader: a Blog by Dave Strader
By Dave Strader
EDMONTON -- As the NHL season approaches the end of the first quarter (is that possible?), here are some thoughts on the Coyotes and other stories around the league…

Coyotes rally without Doan - We hear coaches and players alike say it all the time in the NHL: injuries are no excuse. When a key player goes down, it’s always about the rest of the group pulling closer together. You’ll hear comments like, “No single player can replace (fill in name of injured player here), but it’s a chance for someone else to step up.”

Shane Doan. Photo by Getty Images.
It’s no different with the Coyotes dealing with the absence of their captain and biggest impact player, Shane Doan. No team embodied the term “pack mentality” better than the 2009-10 Coyotes. But, after a mediocre 4-5-3 start, the 2010-11 Coyotes were facing the prospect of trying to right the ship without Doan, who went down with a lower-body injury on Nov. 5 in Dallas. The pack mentality would indeed be tested.

As of this writing, on a freezing cold day in Edmonton, the current edition of the Coyotes is showing some of the same characteristics that served last year’s team so well. In the six games Doan has missed since the injury, the Coyotes are unbeaten in regulation with a 4-0-2 record, and 11 different players have accounted for the 20 goals scored in the last six games. Ilya Bryzgalov has posted a 3-0-2 record in his five starts while Jason Labarbera pitched in with a huge win in Chicago.

When you include the team’s 1-0-2 record when Doan was suspended earlier in the season, that’s a 5-0-4 record in the nine games he has missed. Are the Coyotes better without Doan? Not a chance. But, they’ve found some chemistry with the current line combinations and, for the most part, the team is paying attention to details and making the right decisions at critical times in games. The key when Doan returns? Other players can’t stop doing what they’re doing now and wait for Doan to once again carry the load. It needs to be as seamless a transition as possible.

Carey Price makes a save. Photo by Associated Press.
Biggest surprises and disappointments - For me, the biggest positive surprise in the NHL has been the play of the Montreal Canadiens. Coming off a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals behind the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak, I expected the Canadiens to be in a season-long struggle to make the playoffs next spring. There is still an awful lot of hockey left to be played, but Montreal’s 12-5-1 start has turned a lot of heads. After all, the Montreal braintrust had made the bold (if not unpopular) decision to trade the playoff hero Halak and put their goaltending in the hands of Carey Price. It only took one mediocre pre-season performance by Price for the fans and media to show signs of panic. Price, to his credit, told everyone to relax, that he (and the team) would be fine.
A terrific start to the season by Halak in St. Louis just fueled the emotions of those who thought the Canadiens kept the wrong guy. But, Price has backed up his pre-season comments with his own stellar play. Through the team’s first 18 games, Price played in 17. His numbers? A 2.05 goals=against average, an 11-5-1 record, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts!

The biggest disappointment in the NHL? For me, it has to be the New Jersey Devils. Now, in full disclosure, I did draft Ilya Kovolchuk with my first pick in our Coyotes’ fantasy hockey draft. Putting that aside, I was not a fan of the contract the Devils signed with Kovolchuk. I don’t understand, in the ultimate team sport, how you invest so much of your resources in a player who has never had a reputation of making others around him better. Still, within the Devils system, I thought Kovolchuk would somehow be forced to fit in and contribute to the team’s success. After 18 games, New Jersey’s 5-11-2 record for 12 points ranks 28th in the 30-team NHL. Only the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers trail the Devils. The most stunning stat for the Devils? A goal differential of minus 26. Yikes!

@BizNasty2point0 - So much has changed in my 25 seasons as a play-by-play announcer in the NHL. The entire notion of “social media” is one of the most intriguing changes. I’m amazed at how quickly platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become methods for exchanging information as well as ways for teams to promote and create a larger fan base. I’m not a Facebook guy, but I am on Twitter: @TheVoiceDS for those that would like to follow. I currently have close to 2,000 followers and I follow about 40 people, mostly NHL media types. I must confess, when I open my browser, my twitter home page is the first place I check for breaking news around the NHL. It’s such a great resource and it’s so immediate. Of course, I also have Twitter on my phone.

Paul Bissonnette
Another aspect of this new social media frenzy has been the way athletes have used it to promote themselves or simply give fans an insight to how they view the world. Paul Bissonnette of the Coyotes, aka @BizNasty2point0, is quickly becoming one of the most talked about personalities in the world of Twitter. While he doesn’t have 3.3 million followers like Shaquille O’Neal, @BizNasty2point0 is closing in on 20,000 followers. According to the web site tweeting-athletes.com, BizNasty is the fourth-most followed NHL tweeter behind Alexander Ovechkin, Michael Cammalleri and Martin Havlat. If you were to factor actual playing time as it relates to followers, @BizNasty2point0 would agree that he’s king! Along the way, Bissonnette has garnered some national attention for the Coyotes (USA Today has written about him and Versus is interested in utilizing his personality) and created a buzz around the team that can be a good thing for a franchise that is desperate for attention. If you didn’t see Snap Shot- Paul Bissonnette on Fox Sports Arizona, you’ve got to check it out. It should be available soon at foxsportsarizona.com or set your DVR for the next time it airs. People need to see what those of us who have been around this game for a long time already know: hockey players are good people…fun guys to be around. It’s time for the rest of the sports world to get to know these athletes on a different level.

Coyotes’ ownership - What could possibly be a better holiday gift for Coyotes’ fans than closure to the ownership saga that has dragged on since May 2009? Todd Walsh’s recent interview with prospective owner Matthew Hulsizer at least raises the possibility. We all know that no deal is done until it’s signed by all the parties involved, but with the Coyotes spending a few days in the NYC area the week before Christmas (for games against the Devils, Rangers and Islanders), the setting and the timing would be perfect!

Thanks for reading. Until next time, for phoenixcoyotes.com, I’m Dave Strader…aka @TheVoiceDS
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