Sunday, March 21, 2010
Are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?
With this weekend's action in the record books, the Phoenix Coyotes now stand tied with the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Western Conference - one point up on the San Jose Sharks.
Much has been made of the amazing year the Phoenix Coyotes have had. They deserve full marks for being anything but bottom feeders this season. Aside from Peter Mueller, it seems as if every single one of their young players is having a strong season.
Shane Doan has been his usual tenacious self, Radim Vrbata has rebounded, Ed Jovanovski has rebounded (apparently they've nicknamed him Ken Daneyko these days for his new-found defensive prowess), while Scottie Upshall, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Ilja Bryzgalov have demonstrated to the world that they can play.
All of this achievements this year begs the question:
Are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?
Let's first analyze the question. "For Real" could mean at least one of two things. I could mean racking up a lot of points in a regular season against stiff divisional and conference competition, or, "For Real" could mean 'a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup' once the post-season rolls around.
Let's go with the latter definition since that is the only thing that really matters.
So, are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?
Not yet. Here's why.
Looking at their results this season, they perhaps would be more aptly named Phoenix Coy-OT's. As they have secured an additional 17 points from the extra frame. No, not including their 'loser points' for losing in overtime or the shootout, and no, not including the single point you automatically receive for making it past 60 minutes in a tie.
The Coyotes have a 5-1 record in four-on-four overtime, and the 12-4 record in shootouts. That's right. 12 additional points from shootouts!
By comparison, the San Jose Sharks have 6, the Chicago Blackhawks have 8, and the Vancouver Canucks have 3.
There is something to be said for coming through in the clutch, but there are no shootouts in the NHL Playoffs.
What's more, they have scored fewer goals than any team in the Western Conference playoffs with the exception of the Detroit Red Wings (8th seed at present). If they played the now-healthy Detroit Red Wings in the first round, bet on Detroit.
Their defence is led by Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Zybnek Michalek, Adrian Aucoin, and Jim Vandermeer/Mathieu Schneider. Really?
Many of these blueliners are solid players, but it certainly is an unassuming bunch. Mathieu Schneider has walked on and played 22 minutes a night, so as well as the group has played, there are some interesting notes that should raise some eyebrows.
Do any of those defensemen have the ability to shut down a Pavol Datsyuk / Henrik Zetterberg onslaught in the playoffs? How about Patrick Kane / Jonathan Toews, or the Sedin twins? It is entirely possible, but we haven't seen it yet.
On the other side of things, their forward corps is rather lackluster on a stat sheet. They have one 50 point getter (Shane Doan), and one 20 goal scorer (Radim Vrbata). Are they going to get goals from Vrbata in the playoffs?
Compare that to the Blackhawks. Doan would be fifth in team scoring, and only ahead of Marian Hossa as well due to injury. The Hawks also have five 20 goal scorers.
How about the Vancouver Canucks? They have six 20 goal scorers, and a plethora of weapons - like the Blackhawks and Sharks who can score on any given night.
While the Coyotes deserve all the credit in the world for not only surviving - but thriving in their unfortunate ownership circumstances, and for achieving on-ice success beyond the sum of their parts, let's balance some of that elation and not get too carried away.
Emotionally, the Coyotes will have a lot of new-found fans supporting them, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. They are showing a lot of heart and determination - great signs of a winner. However, they are not winning any games running away and they have no game breaker in their line up. Kudos on a great regular season. Underrated? you bet. Unheralded? not any more. Unproven? Definitely.