Winning Without Their Best

Staying afloat is what the Phoenix Coyotes have been doing over the last few games, and it hasn’t been easy. With the winter months getting the best of everyone, even Shane Doan and Mike Smith got the best of the flu bug. While Smith’s flu forced him out for just a game, Doan on the other hand got it worse. Sitting out the last three games, Dave Tippett announced that he could be gone “for the foreseeable future”. On paper, Doan has always been one of the top players on the ice, and this season with 12 goals and 23 points, it leaves a big hole in the lineup.

“He’s still under the weather and he’s still not going to be available for the foreseeable future,” Tippett said. “He’s still getting some tests done, so hopefully it’s not long, long-term.”

Even worse, they had to make due without Derek Morris and Lauri Korpikoski. Morris is dealing with a personal matter, while Korpikoski is recovering from an upper body injury.

Somehow, winning has been one thing the Coyotes have done without their elite men.

Thomas Griess took over for Smith on Tuesday unexpectedly and earned a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalange, a game in which had strong implications in the Western Conference standings. Griess faced 30 shots only allowing one to go past on an . Even with the win, all he could think of was how close he was of a shutout. Midway through the second period, Patrick Bordeleau forces Michael Stone behind the net. While Stone tried to clear the puck, it hit Bordeleau’s skate and slips past Griess.

“I just left it,” Greiss said. “I didn’t see the other guy coming from the other side, but it just bounced off my skate and went in.”

Still, to take over for his fallen starting goalie was already a feat in itself, leaving the team a great chance to win a very important game.

“It was great,” Antoinne Vermette said, who also scored two goals in the win. “He was phenomenal for us. He stood big time for us, gave us a chance. It was a solid road win. There was nothing fancy about our game. We got our chances and we put them in.”

With Smith back in the lineup on Thursday against the New York Islanders, revenge was in order. Suffering a 6-1 loss on the road in the beginning of the year, the Coyotes returned the favor in Glendale. Trailing 1-0 early in the first, they score four unanswered goals, three in a 3:45 span in the second, and controlled the tempo in a 6-3 victory. Rob Klinkhammer and Mikkel Boedker each scored a pair of goals that helped the offense spark quickly and maintain control.

With all this hard work over the last two games, the Western Conference has not waited for them. A loss against Vancouver before their two wins has them tied for 4th in the Pacific Division, and if the season were to end today, they would be watching the playoffs from home. 41 points and a much better performance from a year ago is still not proving to be enough in one of the most brutal divisions in the league. Things don’t get any better to close out the month, as after a date with Carolina at home they are away for four of the next five which include match-ups with San Jose and Anaheim.

The Coyotes seem to be rather content with their place in the standings still able to compete to close out 2013. While they are 2-1 against the bottom two teams in the division (Calgary and Edmonton), wins have been few and far between against the stronger opponents sitting at 3-5-1. Escaping on the road with a few wins will help shape up how well they can compete when the playoff chase begins to heat up.

“Momentum is a big part of the game,” Tippett said. “With the way our lineup has been, it has been hard to put things in pen. Everything has been in pencil. It is all pencil until the puck drops and we will continue to do that. We hope that our sick guys can get better and get back to playing good hockey.”

News and Notes

Forward Gilbert Brule has been recalled from the Portland Pirates, the team’s AHL affiliate.

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