Coyotes Seeking Return to Playoffs
GLENDALE -- Since 2009, the partnership of Head Coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Don Maloney has made the Phoenix Coyotes among the NHL's most consistent teams. But in a lockout-shortened season that did not afford them much of a training camp, the Coyotes struggled out of the gate and failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since Tippett arrived.
|Photo by Norm Hall.|
With a full training camp to work with entering an 82-game schedule, Tippett has made it clear Phoenix has every intention of returning to the postseason.
"Missing the playoffs for this organization is unacceptable," Tippett said. "Even though it was a shortened season and there were some outside factors involved, we're not a team that wants to make excuses. We want to get back into the playoffs. That will be our goal going into the start of the year."
General Manager Don Maloney said he believes that having a new ownership group - led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc - in place will benefit the franchise greatly.
"We have strong, stable ownership and we have no more excuses for a lack of performance," Maloney said. "Last year we weren’t good enough and we missed that playoffs. That’s not acceptable to us. So, the good thing is we have a really strong group behind us and now it’s up to us all to do a better job, get to the playoffs and see what we can do. But it’s encouraging. It’s a great feeling around here."
The Coyotes will rely on the core that made them such a tough team to play against. It now includes a marquee free agent and a number of prized prospects.
Under Tippett, Phoenix has featured a unit that has lacked big names but managed to play a strong two-way game. For the first time in a while, there is hope Coyotes forwards can put up some strong offensive numbers. Considering the team has ranked no higher than 14th in offense under Tippett, expectations should be tempered. But it could be sparked by the offseason signing of center Mike Ribeiro, who starred under Tippett when they were with the Dallas Stars.
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Ribeiro is playing on a line with captain Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker. He notched 13 goals and 49 points in 48 games for the Washington Capitals last season and has tallied at least 34 assists in nine straight seasons.
Considering the skill set of each player, this top line could give the Coyotes an offensive flair they haven't had in years.
"Mikkel is pretty fast, which I need," Ribeiro said. "He's a really strong kid too. Then you've got Shane, who can shoot the puck. I'm just looking forward to having that first game.
“It’s great to start a new season with a new team,” said Ribeiro, who signed a four-year contract with the Coyotes on the first day of the free-agent signing period over the summer. “You can see a young defense here with a lot of skill and that we have a chance to win. One of my goals is to win a Stanley Cup and I believe with the coaching staff we have here, and the players, that we’re going in the right direction and I’m happy to be here and help them.”
Center Martin Hanzal will anchor the second line for wingers Radim Vrbata and Lauri Korpikoski.
The bottom two lines appear set with veterans Antoine Vermette, Kyle Chipchura, David Moss, and Rob Klinkhammer and newcomers Chris Brown and Lucas Lessio. Forward Paul Bissonnette will miss the first three games because of a suspension.
The addition of Ribeiro and that infusion of youth had the coach excited about this year's camp.
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The Phoenix defense features a talented group of veterans - Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Zbynek Michalek, David Schlemko and Derek Morris.
As with the forwards, the Coyotes have a wealth of quality prospects on the back end and they will be tested as veteran Rostislav Klesla recovers from a preseason concussion.
David Rundblad, Michael Stone and Chris Summers all are on the opening night roster.
Rundblad, who led the team with seven points in the preseason, has earned a starting spot.
"It's a good feeling," Rundblad said. "I've been working really hard for two years - since I got here (via trade with Ottawa for Kyle Turris). My preseason felt good. I just came into camp way more confident and I finally feel like I'm playing my game. But the preseason is just the preseason. Now's the time when I really have to get going."
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The Coyotes crease will again start and finish with Mike Smith. Following a breakout season in 2011-12, his first in Phoenix, Smith struggled with injuries and consistency last season. Nevertheless, they showed their dedication to their franchise goaltender by signing him to a six-year contract extension over the summer.
Smith plans on showing the Coyotes they made the right choice.
"I don't think it's more pressure. If you're a No. 1 goalie in this League, you've accepted that," Smith said. "I think I'm at a point now in my career where I've learned how to deal with that. I've grown as a player tremendously in the last couple of years. Obviously having that great year, I gained a lot of confidence in how I need to play and what I need to do to be successful."