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Off The Post: Coyotes Aren't Just About Defense Anymore

Saturday, 01.29.2011 / 1:17 PM / OFF THE POST - A Blog by Luke Lapinski
By Luke Lapinski
GLENDALE -- If you’re like me, you’re not handling this NHL All-Star Break very well. I’ve gone over 48 consecutive hours without any live NHL action and I’m falling apart. But a light bulb just went off above my head and I realized that, instead of hiding out in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store and checking random customers into the glass, I could get my hockey fix by doing something that just might prove far less destructive: writing a blog. And for the record, if those customers hadn’t been shopping with their head down, I never would’ve had to put them into the frozen green beans.

Luke Lapinski
Twitter: LukeLapinski
The Coyotes are winning games right now with… their offense. There I said it. Is that how this team is built? No. Do they want to rely on being a scoring team down the stretch? Not really. But will they take wins however they can get them while half of their defense is recovering from injury? Um, yes. I don’t think I’m breaking any news when I say the Desert Dogs aren’t traditionally known as an offensive juggernaut. They certainly don’t have a Sidney Crosby or a Steven Stamkos - in fact, Atlanta has a defenseman with more goals than anyone on the Coyotes roster. Phoenix doesn’t have one guy it feeds the puck to, they do it as a group. Stop me if you’ve heard this phrase before: “Pack Mentality.”

This team has struggled to score in the past. Even last season, when they torched the Western Conference en route to a franchise record 50 wins, they did it with defense, finishing just 24th in the league in goals per game. The year before, they were 26th. This season they’re 10th – ahead of traditional scoring powers such as Washington and San Jose, as well as teams with rising offenses like Dallas and Los Angeles. They’ve posted more than four goals in regulation in a game 10 times already and we’re only 51 games in. Last season, they did that eight times… all season. On top of that, they’ve flashed the ability to score in bunches and rally from two- and even three-goal deficits while chasing some top-tier goalies from games (see: Quick, Jonathan and Hiller, Jonas). Those are valuable tools in today’s NHL. Just because this offense isn’t talked about that often doesn’t mean it’s not filling the net.

So who exactly is responsible for this? Well, everyone. Eight Coyotes have double-digit goals and their leading point producer – Keith Yandle – isn’t even one of them. To put that in perspective, the conference-leading Vancouver Canucks have five players in double digits. Granted, they have two guys with 27 goals, but that’s not really the point here. I’m not saying Phoenix has a great offense, but they get it done without relying too much on one player. Any number of forwards can get the job done when it matters most - a major reason why they’re just four points back of last year’s record-setting pace in the standings despite dealing with more injuries than Mark Wahlberg at the end of The Fighter.

Lauri Korpikoski. Photo by Getty Images.
The difference this season is the emergence of players such as Lauri Korpikoski, who has already doubled his career total in goals, and Taylor Pyatt, who is using his big frame to create chaos in front of opposing goalies. Scottie Upshall and Lee Stempniak are proving they’re the type of players who can get on a roll and do some serious damage in a hurry, Yandle and Ray Whitney seem to be attached to every single goal with their crafty playmaking ability, and Shane Doan is averaging a point per game since Nov. 23. Not bad.

I’m not trying to convince you that the Coyotes are the preeminent offense in hockey today. Far from it. This is a team structured around a sound defense and they’ll get back to that as players get healthy and the young defenders build on the valuable experience they’ve gained. Goaltending and defense must be the catalyst for this team to get where it wants to go. Like last season, they’re still strong when leading after two periods (20-1-2). And now they have scoring as a more consistent weapon to go to when needed. It’s a major reason why this is potentially a more dangerous team in a seven-game playoff series than it was even a year ago. You can bend numbers to prove anything, but these numbers really don’t need any bending. When you have the ability to score in bunches, you’re mentally never really out of a game. It’s nice to know the offense is capable when you have to lean on it. You can’t put a value on that – especially in the West, where it’s imperative to grind out every single point.
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