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Phoenix Coyotes Week(s) In Review: Inconsistent Play Mixed With Signs Of Resiliency

Jordan Ellel from Coyotes blog Five for Howling shares his thoughts on the opening weeks of the Coyotes season.

The opening few weeks of the Coyotes season is adequately summed up by their current record 2-2-2; there's been some highs, some lows and some questions thrown into the first 6 games of this young season.  The Coyotes opened the season with a "home-and-home" series with the Boston Bruins in Prague and gave the fans both a glimpse of the highly entertaining brand of Coyotes hockey that led them to the 4th seed in the Western Conference last season in the opening 5-2 win, and the offensively-challenged team that has only scored 15 goals through 6 games in a 3-0 loss. 

Despite the Jekyl and Hyde nature of the series, the Coyotes' 3 Czech-born players (Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Petr Prucha) certainly enjoyed playing in front of their friends and families and the Coyotes' fans that attended various viewing parties around the Valley got their first taste of hockey for the season over a hockey and brunch filled weekend, which was nice.

The most significant event thus far for the Coyotes was the questionable 3 game suspension to captain Shane Doan handed out by league disciplinarian and Wheel of Justice proprietor, Colin Campbell for a "blindside" hit on Dan Sexton.  The validity of the suspension has been dissected sufficiently throughout the blogosphere, but if the NHL wanted to set an example and get the players' attention on this, then they did it with the Doan suspension.  Whether there will be any consistency going forward on these types of hits will be the real test for evaluating the suspension in hindsight.

One thing that the 2010-11 Coyotes have kept from last season's team is a never-say-die attitude as they've already engineered 2 third period comebacks from 2 goals or more down.  Unfortunately, neither game ended with a win for the Desert Dogs, but the three goal comeback against Carolina on Saturday night (featuring a three-point performance from Kyle Turris) did earn the team a point that it had no business getting. 

Another consistent item has been a focus on playing defensively responsible (which was absent in the losses against Carolina and Boston) and solid on the penalty kill (currently ranked 9th in the league at 88% with 1 short-handed goal).

Other highlights of the first few weeks include the return of Scottie Upshall from a torn ACL. Scottie's 3 goals are tied for the team lead with Lee "Desert Ninja" Stempniak, who recorded his first career hat trick in a win over the Kings.  Ilya Bryzgalov has also maintained the form that made him the Vezina Trophy runner up last year. Rookie defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has also been a treat to watch despite his occasional lapses getting caught in the offensive zone.

On the other side of the spectrum, there have been some defensive lapses and periods where the team appears to lack focus. This could be due to missing key cogs Doan as well as center Martin Hanzal, who has been nursing the ambiguous "lower body injury" for the last week.

The power play has shown signs of improvement from last season, although it's not showing up on the score sheet so far. Also, the Coyotes defensemen are yet to record a goal scored despite being second in the league last season in that regard. With a team that doesn't have a true sniper that you rely on to score 40 goals, the Coyotes need players like Ed Jovanovski and Keith Yandle to find the back of the net fairly consistently to be successful.  

But all in all, it's far too early to worry about the Coyotes on the ice and hopefully the return of Doan and Hanzal this week will create some consistency in the lineup and lead to greater offensive production.

Off the ice, the same issues continue to plague the Coyotes - ownership uncertainty, modest attendance numbers (not including the home opener sell out against Detroit). All credible reports suggest that a deal with Matthew Hulsizer should be completed imminently and perhaps the fan base that was destroyed by a decade of mismanagement will find its way back out to Arena to catch their 'Yotes frequently.  It's certainly the best value of any of the 4 major sports teams in Phoenix, even considering the drive times from the east valley. But nobody should be surprised if this remains a work in progress over the next 2-3 years, let alone the next 2-3 months.

Looking ahead to the current week, the Coyotes face a tough road trip with 3 games in 4 nights starting tonight in Montreal, and continuing tomorrow in Ottawa before a final stop in Detroit on Thursday. The Coyotes return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.