Saturday, October 3, 2009

Coyotes Crown Kings 6-3 (I always wanted to write that headline)

In many ways, Saturday night's 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings was a statement game for the Coyotes.

For starters, it was a statement that the focus of the franchise is now back where it belongs, on the ice.

It was also a statement that there has been a lot of changes on this team, from a revamped coaching staff to a reworked lineup.

Perhaps most importantly, it turned into a statement that we've got a pretty good hockey team here. Hopefully, that will get some people to sit up and take notice.

A graphic flashed up at the start of the game reminded how much the team had changed (and improved) since the end of last season. 7 skaters gone (Rupprecht, Lisin, Dawes, Hale, Fedoruk, Prust, Kalinin) and 6 new additions (Aucoin, Vandermeer, Lang, Fiddler, Korpikoski, Vrbata) not to mention the players who joined the team at the trade deadline last year. Think about it, would you make this 7 for 6 if it was a trade? I sure would. Anyone in hockey would.

You can't watch without looking behind the Coyotes bench and seeing the steady, composed hand of Dave Tippett already influencing the team. He's been here for all of 11 days and already it's starting to look like a Dave Tippett team. That's a good thing. And a very positive change.

As for the game, the Coyotes played clean, well organized and highly competitive hockey. They won battles for the puck. The power play produced one goal and could easily have had a couple of more. The Yotes won 59% of their faceoffs led by a glossy 8 of 13 for Matthew Lombardi. The only blemish was tepid penalty killing that allowed the Kings to score 3 times on 4 power play opportunities.

The Kings, on the other hand, did not. Jonathan Quick let in a couple of soft goals. The Kings defensive zone coverage was poor for much of the game and their compete level at equal strength was mediocre. Scott Upshall scored the 5th goal after an egregious giveaway by Drew Doughty. For all the hype over Doughty's play (and he is a gifted offensive player), he made at last a half dozen glaring errors and constantly put his team in a defensive hole.

Last year Radim Vrbata scored three goals in 18 games for Tampa Bay after leaving the Coyotes and signing a big free agent contract. He's already two thirds of the way to matching that with a nice two goal effort. Newcomer Robert Lang chipped in with a goal and was strong on the puck all night. The Vandermeer-Aucoin backline duo each ended up the night +3. Nice work all around.

Starting on the road may turn out to be a huge blessing for the team. The next two games -- Pittsburgh and Buffalo -- promise to be stiff tests but if the Coyotes can grab a point or two back east it will set up a nice homecoming next Saturday night. It will also give the team a chance to get away, bond and continue to absorb Tippet's
system. It will also give the team's fans reason to get worked up in anticipation of next Saturday's soon to be sold out game.

Let's also tip our hat to Todd Walsh for an emotional and factual feature about the history of hockey in Phoenix. It would be smart marketing for the Coyotes management to post the feature on their website and YouTube and make sure that every blogger in sight gets the link to this outstanding piece of work. It answered many of the arguments and pseudo-arguments that have been lodged against hockey in the desert. It was eloquent and accurate, typical of the high quality work that Walsh contributes to every broadcast.

While the off-ice "shenanigans" (thanks Dave Strater for putting it all into perspective) will continue for the next several weeks, the better the team does on the ice and the more buzz that hockey, not business, creates, the better off this franchise will be.

You know what, this could turn out to be a lot of fun this year.

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