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Getting Defensive: Defense-First Mentality Vaulting Coyotes Up Western Rankings

Judging by the attendance at Jobing.com Arena of late, with the exception of Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, you may not have noticed your Phoenix Coyotes have strung quite a few wins together in the past weeks or so.

Phoenix got off to a real hot start in 2011. They climbed the standings quickly, backed by solid goaltending and offensive outbursts.

Then they turned back into the Coyotes. As they have done on more than one occasion this season, one loss for the Coyotes meant multiple, as a couple losses turned into six of eight and the playoffs turned back into a question for Phoenix.

It took a drubbing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks to get the Coyotes to begin to do what they appear to be best at: defense.

The Coyotes have put a lot of effort into building up their blue line. There's the seasoned vets in Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin. Keith Yandle has played every bit as the All Star he was in Raleigh a couple weeks ago. Derek Morris is as steady as they come. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has a bright future with the organization.

Oh yeah, their goalie is pretty good too.

Ilya Bryzgalov posted back-to-back shutouts at the beginning of this little five-game winning streak, which has landed the Coyotes atop the Pacific Division. He couldn't have done it without a little help from his friends, though.

In those two shutouts, the Coyotes held the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche to 25 and 26 shots, respectively. This is especially remarkable because the Wild had scored at least four goals in five of seven heading into that game, and the Avalanche really don't know how to do anything besides play offense.

That pair of games set up a matchup with the division rival Dallas Stars, and the only road game of this streak to date. Again, defensive pressure was the name of the game for these Coyotes, holding Dallas to just 18 shots in the overtime win.

Their most impressive win, and number four in the streak, may just have been Saturday against the Blackhawks. For the most part, the Coyotes contained top tier players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but in the instances that they didn't, Ilya Bryzgalov was right there behind them to put an end to every rush.

And finally, we have the Valentine's Day matchup with the Washington Capitals. Boasting, arguably, the world's best in Alex Ovechkin, along with what was expected to be a cup contending team, the Coyotes didn't allow the Caps to do much of anything. They allowed 31 shots, but blocked a lot more, with Bryzgalov there to stop anything that his defense couldn't.

So here the Coyotes stand, in third place in the Western Conference. They've discovered their identity. A defensive squad, with the speed to make you pay on the rush. To any team come playoff time, that's a tall order to deal with.