The Phoenix Coyotes are settling in to the stretch run and playing the type of hockey that Coach Tippett preaches - solid defensive hockey with offensive contributions from the team as a whole. Over the past week, the Coyotes went 2-1-0 and now have an overall record of 39-24-11 for 89 points. They are second in the Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference overall.
Unfortunately the Coyotes returned home and saw their five-game winning streak snapped which included a second undefeated run through Western Canada, only the second time that any team has accomplished that feat since 1997. Also, with Matthew Hulsizer's recent pronouncement, we may yet be nearing the end of the ownership uncertainty that has plagued the team almost since their inception in the WHA all those years ago. Or we may not.
Thursday, March 17 @ Edmonton, 3-1 Win
Despite playing one of the worst games that the Coyotes have played in a few weeks, the bounces were going their way against the Oilers. Lee Stempniak converted a pretty pass from Lauri Korpikoski to give the Coyotes an early lead, Ray Whitney added a breakaway tally and they survived the final push from Edmonton behind solid goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov (which has been the norm for the past month and a half) and a rare diving call against Linus Omark that allowed the Coyotes to add the ever-important insurance goal.
Friday, March 18 @ Vancouver, 3-1 Win
This game was all about the play of back-up goaltender Jason LaBarbera, who made 46 saves on the night, including several that were fairly spectacular. This game was scoreless until midway through the third period when momentum would swing for the Coyotes.
First, the Coyotes would kill of over a minute of two-man advantage for the Canucks behind some stellar play by Vernon Fiddler, Derek Morris and Michal Rozsival. Soon afterwards, Alexandre Burrows was whistled for a 5-minute boarding major when he pushed Fiddler into the dasher boards behind the Vancouver goal. The play looked much worse than it was at full speed but the Coyotes would take advantage of the generous penalty by scoring twice on the ensuing power play.
Despite allowing the late goal, Lee Stempniak's third goal in as many games into the empty net iced this one for the Desert Dogs against the best team in the NHL this year. The Coyotes are the only team to have won two games visiting Vancouver on the season.
Sunday, March 20 vs. Chicago, 2-1 Loss
Another solid defensive battle that had much the feel of the playoffs in Glendale the other night. Ilya Bryzgalov and Corey Crawford were locked in for the entire night and the Coyotes PK would prove the difference as Chicago converted twice on the power play. Shane Doan was whistled for a late holding call (a penalty that has plagued the 'Yotes in recent weeks) and a great pass from Jonathan Toews to Chris Campoli would prove the difference. Eric Belanger banked a puck in off of a Chicago defender for the lone Coyotes goal.
Looking Ahead at the Week to Come
The Coyotes continue their six-game home stand with tilts against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. With St. Louis and Columbus already being pretty much out of playoff contention, they would love nothing more than to play spoiler in their trip to Glendale. Particularly, former Coyotes Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto will be returning for their first games against the Coyotes since being traded at the trade deadline earlier this month for Rostislav Klesla.
All three players have played well with their new teams and you can imagine some extra motivation for them coming into Thursday's game.
Saturday's game against San Jose marks the first of three remaining match-ups against the Pacific Division leaders. If the Coyotes can grab five of six points from these games while limiting the Sharks to only a point or two, it could decide which team will win the Division and earn that coveted third seeding in the Western Conference (or second if Detroit should falter). Three big games with the upper level already sold out for Saturday night so get your tickets now if you want to experience them in person.
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