2010-11 NHL season preview: Phoenix Coyotes

tippettwithtrophy.jpgLast season: (50-25-7, 107 points, 2nd in Pacific Division, 4th in Western Conference) Only the most optimistic, pie-in-the-sky Coyotes fans expected the team to be so successful last season. Amid ownership squabbles and the hasty addition of new coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes nearly took the Pacific Division before pushing the Detroit Red Wings to a Game 7 in a captivating (if sloppy) first-round series. It will be a difficult season to top, that’s for sure.

Head coach: Tippett earned the Jack Adams Award as the top NHL coach for good reason. He took an unshaped mass of a team left behind by befuddled coach Wayne Gretzky and made a playoff team out of them. He doesn’t have the most-talented team in front of him, but if anyone can get an encore performance out of this group, it’s Tippett. I just wish he would grow his mustache back.

Key departures: F Matthew Lombardi, D Zbynek Michalek, D Mathieu Schneider, F Robert Lang, D Jim Vandermeer. Michalek is the biggest loss since he logged big defensive minutes last season, but he received a pretty staggering deal from Pittsburgh. Lombardi’s speed and skill will be missed. Schneider, Lang and Vandermeer were somewhat marginal veterans by the end of last year.

Key arrivals: F Ray Whitney, F Eric Belanger. Whitney might be an underrated pickup. The Coyotes need a pure point producer, and when he’s healthy, Whitney is just that. Belanger might be bitter toward the Capitals, but he’s a solid two-way center who should fit in well with Phoenix.

Thumbnail image for bryzgalovandtheyotes.jpgUnder pressure: Ilya Bryzgalov had a near-Vezina-worthy campaign last season and the Coyotes will need that kind of season from him again to maintain their momentum. The wacky Russian goalie has the added pressure/incentive of being in a contract year.

Protecting the house: Bryzgalov was one of the best goalies in the NHL last season — and like I wrote before — he’ll need to be great again next year. My instinct is to say that Jason Larbarbera is an exceedingly mediocre goalie, but he put up great numbers last season. In 17 games, Labarbera boasted a 2.13 GAA and a .928 save percentage. It seems like both goalies are going to struggle to match last season’s work.

The Coyotes will miss Michalek dearly, as their next best defensemen are Keith Yandle, Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski. You have to wonder if they’ll regress a bit, but perhaps Tippett’s system will help to mask some of those blemishes.

Top line we’d like to see: Whitney-Wojtek Wolski-Shane Doan. The Coyotes aren’t loaded with flashy talent, but this trio would put up some nice offensive numbers. Lee Stempniak is another player who could be in consideration for such a top line.

Oh captain, my captain: After years of being the only good player on an abysmal team, Doan is now the heart-and-soul captain of a group that gets it done by committee. He didn’t score very often in the series against the Red Wings, but his physical play helped the Coyotes make life very difficult for Detroit.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for paulbiznastyfalling.jpgStreet fighting man: Their fighter is the man who goes by Paul Biznasty 2point0 on Twitter, otherwise known as Paul Bissonnette. He hates PT cruisers, speaks his mind and punches people for a living. Hard to argue with a guy like that.

Best-case scenario: Instead of struggling to match last year’s output, the Coyotes show that last season was just a transitional phase since Tippett received a full training camp to work with this summer. Bryzgalov tops last year with a Vezina-winning season, while Stempniak and Wolski prove that their trade deadline hot streaks were just a sign that they needed a change of scenery. The Coyotes win a slightly weakened Pacific Division and get to the Western Conference finals.

Worst-case scenario: Much like the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues last season, the Coyotes fail to match their Cinderella season. Bryzgalov comes back to earth, the Coyotes’ offense cannot produce by committee and their defense misses Michalek badly. The Coyotes finish last in the Pacific division and (ugh) leave town with their tails between their legs.

Keeping it real: The Coyotes are a well-coached team with a quirky but talented goalie that should stay with most teams. They made solid, subtle moves all summer long but lack much in the way of scoring punch. Nothing will come easily for the Coyotes, but I think Tippett will help them take third place in the Pacific and a low seed (probably 8th place) in the West to squeak into the playoffs.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Coyotes deserve a 3. Scrappy teams with good goalies and even better coaching can go a long way. They have great leadership, plenty of two-way players and a lot of mojo. Still, as that Red Wings series showed, they struggle against more talented teams and are a long shot to actually win it all.

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    Sharks grind out win, make life difficult for Kings

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    If the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings meet again, it will be in the playoffs. If they do so, the Sharks will hold quite a bit of a recent edge.

    They defeated them in the first round of the 2016 playoffs and won the 2016-17 season series with the Kings after beating L.A. in a tight 3-2 affair on Wednesday.

    During a week where leads have been flimsy and goals came in flurries, this one started off pretty hot. The Sharks generated a 2-1 lead in the first period, and then the two teams exchanged goals in the second, with Joe Pavelski‘s goal ultimately standing as the game-winner.

    The Sharks won after a scoreless third period, keeping them in a position to take back first place in the Pacific Division:

    1. Ducks – 59 points in 47 games
    2. Oilers – 57 in 47
    3. Sharks – 56 in 45

    San Jose has an opportunity to make up that ground with its games in hand. The Kings, on the other hand, see their margin of error for a wild card spot dwindling:

    Second wild card spot: Kings, 48 points in 45 games

    Canucks – 48 in 46
    Predators – 47 in 44
    Stars – 46 in 46
    Jets – 46 in 48

    The Sharks made life easier for themselves while making it tougher for the Kings. If that’s the end of their interactions for 2016-17, Sharks fans should be quite happy.

    Red Wings rally by Bruins in another game that evokes the Eighties

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    Things looked pretty grim for the Detroit Red Wings after the Boston Bruins chased Jared Coreau from the net with a quick 3-0 lead. Maybe the Red Wings took note that this has been a weird, high-scoring week in the NHL, because they rallied back and eventually won 6-5 via a shootout.

    To recap the zaniest games of each day from this odd few days of hockey:

    Monday: The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 8-7 in an overtime thriller.

    Tuesday: The Dallas Stars managed to hold off the New York Rangers in a 7-6 victory. Plenty of weird things happened beyond all of those goals.

    Wednesday: Red Wings storm back from that 3-0 deficit to eventually win.

    Games like these can be a nightmare for coaches and goalies on both sides, yet Claude Julien was probably especially steamed by this one.

    The Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 but the Red Wings kept fighting back. As a defensive-minded coach, Julien couldn’t have been happy with his team’s play.

    (That’s the coach’s answer to slamming a video game controller in a frustrating loss.)

    Fitting in with this week’s other wilder contests, there were flurries of goals even beyond the trio that quickly gave Coreau the boot. The Red Wings warped a 4-1 Bruins lead to a 4-4 tie with three goals in a little more than 10 minutes of time.

    Adam McQuaid then regained Boston’s lead 21 seconds after it was tied, but the Red Wings didn’t give up. Instead, they applied a ton of pressure in the third period until Gustav Nyquist tied it up with about three minutes left.

    Detroit still has a long way to go to protect its remarkable playoff streak, especially when teams like the Bruins can at least salvage “charity points” with losses. If the Red Wings want to make an unlikely push, they’ll need to show the kind of resolve that was on display on yet another wild night in the NHL.

    Pavelec makes highlight reel save, gets win in return to Jets’ net

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 28:  Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets dives across to make a first period save against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Jets 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    With an expiring contract, Ondrej Pavelec’s time with the Winnipeg Jets is nearing an end. Plenty of Jets fans would say, mercifully.

    Still, he did return to the Winnipeg Jets net on Wednesday for his first NHL appearance since April 9, 2016, to mostly successful results. The Jets beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3, for one thing.

    Beyond that, it probably felt like a typical Pavelec start for many Jets fans, though some would contest that it would also need to involve a loss.

    There were those regrettable moments, like giving up a goal right away:

    Even his critics would probably agree that Pavelec does have a knack for making breathtaking saves:

    It’s unclear how many more times we’ll see Pavelec play for the Jets (or an NHL team in general). His performance – if given more chances – in the near future may determine that answer.

    If nothing else, his 2016-17 debut felt pretty fitting.

    Connor McDavid hits the 100-point mark, scores OT-winner (or did he?)

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 08: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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    PHT brings you the hard-hitting math, as you know, so here’s the latest burst: Connor McDavid is more than a point-per-game player.

    You see, he scored the 100th point of his promising NHL career, and he did so in just his 92nd career game on Wednesday. Let us remind you that he’s just 20 years old (and he turned 20 on Jan. 13). Yeah.

    Point 100 came on via an assist on a Zack Kassian goal as the Edmonton Oilers went up 1-0 against the Florida Panthers.

    Here’s the clip:

    Update: There’s debate regarding whether McDavid’s overtime-winner should have counted or not, but either way, it’s impressive that he generated a goal and an assist after hitting the 100-point mark. So it’s now 102 points in 92 games.

    Here’s that contested goal: