Remember when it looked like the Phoenix Coyotes were primed to plummet back to mediocrity after their Cinderella 2009-10 season?
Much like fellow out of left field hot team the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Coyotes’ early season troubles are starting to seem like a distant memory at this point. After befuddling the struggling Edmonton Oilers tonight, Dave Tippett’s team is now on a seven game winning streak and are 7-0-2 in their last nine games.
This win also gave them a brief lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, although the Kings have a game in hand.
While the Blue Jackets are reaping the benefits of strong play from two goalies (Steve Mason and outstanding backup Mathieu Garon), the Coyotes are leaning heavily on their talented Russian starter Ilya Bryzgalov. He earned a 23-save shutout tonight, bringing his record in that 7-0-2 stretch to 6-0-2 (Jason LaBarbera only received one start, which began the team’s winning streak.)
The Coyotes are scoring goals by committee during this stretch, although tonight’s win featured some pretty dominating performances from a few Coyotes forwards. Lee Stempniak scored two goals and one assist, big Martin Hanzal scored two goals of his own and Eric Belanger earned the primary helpers on each of Stempniak’s tallies. Wojtek Wolski also had a nice night, scoring one goal and adding an assist.
It’s unclear if this is a blessing (for rest) or a curse (if they lose momentum), but the Coyotes won’t play again until Saturday’s game at home against their division rivals the Anaheim Ducks. The Pacific Division is still pretty brutal, but the Coyotes seem like they regained that scrappy form that propelled them to an impressive fourth seed finish last season; five of their seven consecutive wins came by one goal.
Meanwhile, the Oilers are showing faint signs of life with their big goalie Devan Dubnyk in net (1-1-1 in his three games since Nikolai Khabibulin went on the injured reserve). Still, the team must find a way to play better defense in front of him, as they allowed 42, 40 and 34 shots against in those three contests.