Detroit Red Wings v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Four

2011-2012 season preview: Phoenix Coyotes

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2010-2011 record: 43-26-13, 99 points; 3rd in Pacific, 6th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Detroit 4-0 in Western quarterfinals

The Coyotes have surprised the critics in each of the last two seasons. Two years ago, many people picked the Coyotes to finish last in the league — only for the team to win 50 games and earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Many thought it was a fluke and doubted Phoenix once again last season, and again the Coyotes surprised the doubters, producing a 99-point season, and another trip to the playoffs. But if the Coyotes are to make the playoffs this time around, it could be their most surprising feat yet.

Offense

There isn’t much offensive firepower amongs the forwards. Someone looking at the team in a negative light would point out that Phoenix only had a single player that scored 20 goals last season. Then again, an optimist would point out that the team had 10 players who scored double-digit goals for the team a season ago. To understand this simple stat is to understand the way the Coyotes are built: they don’t have any superstars who are going to carry the offensive load. Just like all players are expected to buy into Dave Tippett’s team defense philosophy, all forwards are expected to chip in on the offensive end as well. This season, Daymond Langkow, Boyd Gordon and Raffi Torres will be expected to pick up where departed forwards Lee Stempniak, Vernon Fiddler and Eric Belanger left off.

Defense

The team has made a living over the past couple of years by keeping the puck out of their own net. Last season, Keith Yandle emerged as an elite defenseman and signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason to prove it. He’ll be expected to play about 25 minutes per game as he helps the Coyotes on the offensive side of the puck as much as the defensive side. Adrian Aucoin, Rusty Klesla, and Derek Morris all provide depth, but it’s the youth that should make Phoenix fans excited. After splitting time between Phoenix and San Antonio last season, former No. 6 overall pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson will start the season with the big club. He has all the tools and the team fully expects the young Swede to develop into a top-pairing defenseman in the near future.

Goalies

Goaltending is the 800-pound elephant in the room for the Coyotes. Over the last two successful seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov has been one of the best netminders in the game. The Coyotes sent Bryzgalov to the Flyers when they couldn’t reach an agreement with the pending unrestricted free agent and turned their attention to the open market for a replacement. The good thing is that they were able to acquire their No. 1 option on July 1 when they nabbed former Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. The bad thing is that very few people outside of Phoenix think Smith will be able to replicate Bryzgalov’s success in the desert.

For Smith’s part, he had success when he played under Dave Tippett in the Dallas organization. The team likes his style: he’s a big goaltender who can play the puck extremely well. He’ll need to have a career season — otherwise the Coyotes will suffer a substantial drop off in goaltending.

Coaching

If it weren’t for Shane Doan, then Tippett would be the face of the franchise. The defensive philosophy that he brought with him from the Stars two seasons ago is exactly what the organization needed to survive. Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, Tippett consistently finds a way to get the most out of his roster on a nightly basis.

Breakout candidate

The organization thinks that Mikkel Boedker is poised to break out this season. Last season, he split time between the Coyotes and the minors, but with a new contract and a more mature game, he could be set up to take the next step in the NHL. Boedker plays with incredible speed and with Stempniak moving on to the Calgary Flames, there’s a spot on the right wing for the young Dane. He may never develop into the 30-goal scorer that people envisioned when he was drafted, but don’t be surprised if he scores double-digit goals, plays a strong two-way game, and creates energy for his team with his speed.

Best-case scenario

If the recent past has told us anything, it’s that the best-case scenario for the Coyotes is a solid playoff spot. If Smith can come in and thrive like the team expects him to, he could minimize the pain from losing Bryzgalov. If Langkow can come in and stay healthy for a full 82-game season, Torres can find chemistry with a center like Gordon, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson can start filling his immense potential, the Coyotes could make it back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Reality

The reality is the Coyotes have a gigantic hole in net they have to fill. In fact, the void in the Phoenix net may be the most devastating loss for any team this summer. The Coyotes are asking Smith to walk into a new team and have a career season just to maintain their success from last season. They had a Norris Trophy candidate put up 59 points from the blue line and will need the same kind of production again this season. The forwards will have to continue to play an even stronger two-way game while scoring a little more to compensate for the new netminder. There are just too many questions the Coyotes to answer to put them into a playoff spot. This could be the season where it all catches up with them — last place in the Pacific and one of the bottom feeders in the Western Conference.

WATCH LIVE: Canada-USA (IIHF World Hockey Championship)

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A huge tilt on day one of the World Hockey Championships, as Canada and the USA clash in Russia. You can watch the game online using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Canada came away with a gold medal in last year’s tournament while the United States took home the bronze. Of course, each team’s roster changes significantly every year.

The USA’s next game is tomorrow against Belarus. Canada will play Sunday against Hungary.

PHT Morning Skate: Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Here’s a feel-good story. Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom. (Sportsnet)

–NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire does a lot of traveling during the playoffs. (Sports Illustrated)

–It sounds like ESPN’s Mike Wilbon isn’t a fan of the Coyotes’ latest front office hire. (ESPN)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–Former referee Kerry Fraser wants the old charging rule to make a return. (TSN)

–Hockey is becoming more common in the North Carolina Sports Hall-of-Fame. (Charlotte Observer)

–Leafs prospect Mitch Marner’s family home caught fire prior to Game 1 of the OHL final. (Sportsnet)

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”