As the home stretch of the season began with a loss in San Jose Tuesday night, I thought it would be a good idea to list the top eight Phoenix Coyotes storylines to keep an eye on.
1 – How much will Ilya Bryzgalov play during the last stretch of the season?
This is probably the most key component to the Phoenix Coyotes regular season and playoff success this year. Will Bryzgalov get some rest during this important part of the year, or will the Coyotes lean heavily on him?
One train of thought comes from Jason Botchford of ‘The Province’ in Vancouver BC:
“Those big guys who play 65-70 games a year, they don’t win Stanley Cups, at least not very often. You have to go back to 03 to find a 70 game goalie that’s even been to a Cup final. It’s hugely important, I believe in the NHL to have goaltenders where the job is shared. I think we’re learning a lot more about the position. There’s a lot more demands on the position.
Take baseball, right? It took them a long time to come to the point where the best way to handle starting pitching was to have the guy pitch once every fifth day. It took them a long time to come to the realization that normally that there’s too much strain on catchers to be everyday guys. The position is too strenuous to be an everyday guy.
I suggest to you that that’s the same for goaltending.
The guys that are successful and the goalies that have won cups since 2003 averaged 47 games a season. The guys (goalies) that have been to Conference Finals since 2003 have averaged 47 games a season. I think that should be your target area.”
Bryzgalov has played in 41 games so far this season.
2 – The Trade Deadline on Feb 28th
Traditionally, a great day for Coyotes fans but this season’s trade deadline carries a few conditions. If or when the Coyotes sale goes through, will general manager Don Maloney have the green light to go out and get some solid talent?
On the other hand, Maloney has a reputation so far for not mortgaging the future for the present like some other GM’s in the league. Keep an eye on what Maloney does leading up to the trade deadline.
3 – Seventh and Eighth defenseman spot
Once all the Coyotes defensemen are healthy, there will be eight defensemen on the roster. The chances of the Coyotes carrying eight defensemen on the roster for an extended period of time are pretty slim. As of right now, the odd man out is David Schlemko due to the improved play of Sami Lepisto since the Christmas break. It’s not that Schlemko is a bad defenseman, it’s that everyone else is outplaying him by a mile right now.
4 – Improving on Defense
If there’s one major part of the Coyotes game that needs to improve consistency wise, it’s their defensive zone game….in all situations. The key for success in Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett’s system is to be sound defensively.
So far, the Coyotes have yet to be consistent in this aspect of their game for extended periods of time. If they want to seriously contend for a Stanley Cup, then this is the top priority for improvement.
5 – Team chemistry
This isn’t really a question or statement about the Coyotes’ players getting along in the dressing room or not. It’s more along the lines of how the entire team has not played to their potentials as of yet.
There’s been glimpses of the Coyotes playing near their potential this season (especially in their offensive zone). However, any glimpse of the Coyotes full potential up to this point has yet to remain for an extended period of time.
I was on ‘Breakthrough Sports’ this past Friday and noted how this year’s Coyotes roster resembles the 2006 Edmonton Oilers squad in the sense that they’re not all on the same page together in the latter part of the regular season. The Oilers made the 2006 playoffs as the eighth seed in the West and Once they reached the playoffs, a light switch turned on with the entire roster, chemistry wise. The Oilers then proceeded to wreak a path of destruction all the way to the Stanley Cup finals knocking off three Stanley Cup favorites in the process (the Detroit Red Wings, the San Jose Sharks, and the Anaheim Ducks).
Keep an eye on how the Coyotes play or don’t play as a unit on the ice for the remainder of the season.
6 – Strength of Schedule
As noted on by Ryan Porth of RLD Hockey, the Coyotes have the toughest in the league during the home stretch. If you thought the Coyotes January schedule was tough, check out their remaining schedule starting in February:
7 – Feb 19th-27th
This is a five game Eastern and Midwestern road trip for the Coyotes that ends the day before the NHL Trade Deadline. As I see it, this road trip will define the path the ‘Yotes will be taking for the remainder of the regular season and potentially the playoffs.
8 – Keith Yandle’s Quest for the Norris
Yandle finally got recognition for the amazing year he’s having by being named to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. In the last part of this season he is a legitimate candidate for the Norris Trophy (given to the player who shows the best all around ability at the defense position). Most voters outside of the state of Arizona will counter his plus-2 rating as a knock against Yandle being a Norris Trophy candidate.
My only response to that is, try watching Coyotes games sometime. If Yandle played in a bigger market than Phoenix, the media would have him listed near or at the top of their Norris Trophy watch lists.