The Phoenix Coyotes still reside in the vast middle of the Western Conference where a mere four points separate the teams in the 4th through 12th spot. A strong week saw the Desert Dogs go 3-0-1 and move up to the 7th spot in the West, just a single point out of 4th (the Coyotes hold games in hand on almost every team ahead of them in the standings currently). With an overall record of 20-13-9, the Coyotes have 49 points and will look to firmly entrench themselves in a playoff spot with 3 more big games this week.
Firstly, congratulations to Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on his selection to the NHL All Star SuperSkills squad. OEL will be the Coyotes lone representative for All Star weekend and the only real snub is defenseman Keith Yandle who should be a fixture in this game in the future if his game improves.
Also to note this week, the Coyotes made their first move of the season, trading disappointing forward Wojtek Wolski to the New York Rangers for veteran defenseman Michal Roszival. Roszival isn't flashy, but he eats minutes and is generally competent in his own zone - he will allow the coaches to back off the ice time being played by Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Yandle, which should only help their performance. While Wolski has lots of potential, he never meshed with Tippett's defense-first style and eventually requested the trade. Best of luck dealing with crazy Rangers coach John Tortarella.
Tuesday, January 4 vs. Columbus, 4-2 Win
Facing a slumping Columbus team, the Coyotes jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second period on pretty goals from Scottie Upshall coming from behind the net and punching one through Mathieu Garon and defenseman Sami Lepisto potting a rebound opportunity following up a play. The 'Yotes allowed the Blue Jackets to get back in the game giving up a goal to R. J. Umberger midway through the second and then a game-tying tally on the power play on a point shot from Jakub Voracek. Shane Doan would break the tie on a beautiful deflection of a Keith Yandle shot and Vernon Fiddler scored his first goal in seemingly forever putting a rebound off the post past the sprawling Garon. The Blue Jackets will look to get revenge on the Coyotes tonight in Columbus.
Thursday, January 6 @ Colorado, 2-0 Win
Jason LaBarbera got the emergency start for Ilya Bryzgalov who was dealing with a family medical emergency (nothing too serious, thankfully) and recorded his second shutout of the season, stopping the league leading goal scorers in the league from the Avalanche. Taylor Pyatt was the offensive hero scoring both goals, the second into the empty net on an assist from Shane Doan that extended his point streak to eight games. With Colorado right ahead of the 'Yotes in the standings, a huge win for the team and another focused defensive effort which is what the team needs to focus on recreating every game.
Saturday, January 8 vs. Buffalo, 2-1 Loss (OT)
In a pre-game ceremony, the Coyotes honored alternate captain Ed Jovanovski on playing in his 1,000th career game (this was actually the game in Dallas last week). In the overtime, Jovo would inadvertently screen goalie Jason LaBarbera (making his first home start of the season after 12 road starts) allowing Drew Stafford to score the game winner on a sharp wrist shot. The Coyotes came out a bit flat and once again seemed unwilling to play a physical game against an Eastern Conference foe, but the team brought the pressure in the second and third periods, but could not solve Sabres goalie Ryan Miller who made 33 saves in the game. Scottie Upshall scored the lone Coyotes goal on a rebound of a Adrian Aucoin shot the kicked off to Uppie's stick. The building was packed with Sabres fans, Oregon and Auburn fans and the "Let's Go Buff-a-lo" chant signaled that these snowbirds had finally dethawed in the Phoenix heat. Their energy was commendable and it brought some life out of the Coyotes fans in attendance as well which was nice to see...unfortunately, they were partying at the end.
Monday, January 10 @ St. Louis, 4-3 Win
With Wojtek Wolski's forward slot being vacated, there is more ice time available for those forwards that want it, and Kyle Turris showed that he wants it. Flying around the ice all game, his line paired with Lauri Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt accounted for three of the four Coyotes goals, including the game tying and game winning goals after the Coyotes squandered a 2-1 lead entering the third period. St. Louis came out buzzing in the third and scored two goals in a 20-second patch to take a 3-2 lead, but the Coyotes battled back after a well-needed Dave Tippett time out calmed the building a bit. The physicality in this game was tremendous as big hits were being thrown by both squads, including David Backes and Shane Doan hitting anything that moved for large swaths of the second and third periods. Paul Bissonnette and Cam Janssen mixed it up in a fairly even bout that helped further set the tone. These two teams are so similar that it would be a great match-up come playoff time, particularly in a later round when the nastiness could really develop.
A Look At The Week Ahead
Tonight, the Coyotes are in Columbus to finish off the back-to-back road trip. Columbus has been trending in the wrong direction and its imperative that the Coyotes get two points here. Thursday, the 'Yotes are back home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. There will be tons of Leafs fans in attendance, so make sure to come out and bring your waffles! The Leafs have been on an offensive tear recently, so despite their disappointing record, the Coyotes should not look past this game (particularly considering their general difficulties playing Eastern Conference teams). Saturday night brings the Anaheim Ducks back to the Jobing.com Arena ice and the 'Yotes will look to avenge their most recent disappointment against the Ducks. Then on Monday, it's an MLK Matinee as the Coyotes will host a sort of "Kids Day" for their match-up with the slumping San Jose Sharks. The perennial President's Trophy contending Sharks have lost four straight and currently sit outside of a playoff position...just where we like them.