The Phoenix Coyotes had a lot of questions coming into the season. Who would take over for fan favorite Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes? Would the offseason acquisitions mesh with the current roster and make up for the losses to free agency? Could the Coyotes make it to a third straight post-season? And of course, the lingering question still remained of what the future held for the franchise staying in Arizona. 24 games into the season a lot these questions have already been answered.
Just past the quarter point of the season the Pacific Division is as tight as ever. Currently the Coyotes have a 13-8-3 overall record and have a 5-2-2 record within the Pacific. It was expected that the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks would be the front runners and battle it out for first, but both the Dallas Stars and the Coyotes have proven to be tougher opponents than expected this season.
The Coyotes went into the Dec. 1 game with Winnipeg tied for first in the division, but losing dropped them all the way down to fourth. The Anaheim Ducks have been the only team truly struggling in the division, but with former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau taking over behind the bench, the Coyotes are sure to get some difficult match ups out of their Pacific Division rival. While the Coyotes looked inconsistent in a few losses so far, the team is proving to be a real threat in the West.
The departure of Bryzgalov had fans feeling anxious about who would be in net for the Yotes. Who was this Mike Smith guy the team brought in? Well, fans know exactly who Smith is now.
The former Tampa Bay Lighting and Dallas Stars goaltender has exceeded everyones expectations so far this season. He is a top ten goalie in every major category, boasting a goals against average of 2.08, a 93.6 save percentage, and already has 12 wins on the young season. All are career highs except for wins, which Smith is sure to break this season considering his previous season-high was 14. He has also added two shutouts to his resume this season.
The penalty kill has also been a bright spot in the Coyotes game. After ranking 26th last season, Coach Dave Tippet's special teams unit has taken pride in blocking shots, clearing rebounds, and boxing traffic out from in front of the net. Lauri Korpikoski, Martin Hanzal, and newcomer Boyd Gordon have all repeatedly given up their bodies to stop the opposition.
The season has also had its share of milestones as well. Captain Shane Doan put in his 300th goal of his career and Coach Dave Tippett got his 100th win with the Coyotes. Some milestones coming up include Ray Whitney going for his 600th assist (currently 598), and Radim Vrbata is getting close to both his 200th assist and 350th point (currently 185 assist, 344 points).
The Coyotes have tuned out the talk of leaving the valley and it has showed on the ice. Coyotes fans should do the same. If it is indeed the last season that Arizonians have the Desert Dogs as their home team, it seems to be shaping up to be a memorable one.