I'm a relative neophyte to hockey but I'm also enthusiastic, particularly about my home team - the Phoenix Coyotes. Sadly, my Coyotes don't appear to have much representation in this corner of the blogosphere... which is why I've decided to take some initiative and write. Who knows if I'll make a habit of it - I suppose I'll leave it up to the readers to decide.
Anyway, on to the blog.
The Coyotes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 last night at Jobing.com Arena. To say this was a relief is something of an understatement. We in Phoenix always get nervous when a team featuring flashy superstar goal scorers comes to town - and for good reason, since I'm sure all of you have seen the plethora of highlight reel goals that have been scored against us since the lockout.
The good news is that the only candidate for a highlight reeler last night got stuffed at the last moment by Ilya "Why you hef be mad?" Bryzgalov. Sidney Crosby was the offending Pen (as usual) and his deking, stickhandling, and outclassing of the defense on this attempt had most of the Coyotes faithful wishing they had brought some Depends along as insurance. But our Ilya, stung by sitting out two straight games and cooling his heels for a couple of weeks, made a great stop and saved us from further YouTube ignominy.
The game featured a full 60 minutes of effort from the Coyotes, which some of us fans had forgotten they could provide. The Mutts contained Crosby, they contained Malkin, they survived Orpik, and they skated away with a game they could be proud of. After a 40-minute bag skate brought on by their 4-1 loss to Calgary last game (a game that could have been a lot worse, by rights), the Yotes came out hungry and left very satisfied.
Ken Klee - the veteran defenseman acquired from Anaheim on re-entry waivers acquitted himself well in his first game in Coyotes Red. Wearing Keith Ballard's old number 2, Klee was a real steadying influence in the defensive zone, making all the right plays and asserting himself forcefully in front of the crease.
Klee's linemate David Hale, who has come under fire of late from fans for his play, seemed to benefit from Klee's presence. Hale is normally paired with rookie Keith Yandle, an offensive-minded defenseman whose play in his own zone still needs a hefty bit of work. Playing with Yandle, Hale appears overmatched - but with Klee as a partner he looked more comfortable with less defensive load on his shoulders and even ranged into the offensive play more.
The Klee pickup is only a game old but it looks like another winning move by Don Maloney - a guy who appears to be racking up quite a bit of them of late.
Shane Doan - Captain Coyote is off to his best start... well, ever. The guy who will likely be the first to see his Coyotes jersey hung to the rafters in a few years usually is a slow starter, but Doan has been on the tear of his career in the first 8 games. He is playing a power forward's game and acting as if he owns the ice, plowing through defenders and taking ownership of both zones. Coyotes fans all know Doan as one of the hardest workers on the team and it's nice to see his effort bringing results before Christmas for a change.
Steven Reinprecht - One of the few veteran players left on the Coyotes roster after the rebuilding initiative sat out the last two games in the press box in favor of Brian McGrattan... a mistake that Coach Gretzky will likely not repeat given the way Reino has played in the six games he hasn't been benched. Against the Pens Reinprecht again brought a steady hand and some unbelievable supporting play to his rookie linemates, setting up rookie Kevin Porter for his first career goal on a truly sweet assist. With Minnesota coming up on Saturday, it's likely McGrattan will be back in the lineup to counter Boogaard - but it's not very likely Reino will be back in a suit.
Mikkel Boedker - The Coyotes got very very lucky when they drafted this young Dane. In his 8 games this season, the 18-year-old rookie has been one of the most solid players in the lineup. Watching him on the ice, you forget that he is barely old enough to vote and still too young to drink (legally). Boedker's exceptional lower-body strength, skating speed, agility, and vision are complemented by great hockey sense and responsible play that make him a crucial asset to this young club. More importantly, however, he brings the intangibles that do not always make it onto the stat sheet - team play, unselfishness, willing to sacrifice the body to make a play. He is easily the Coyotes' best rookie (and one of its top five players period) and could be a legitimate threat for the Calder Trophy.
Peter Mueller - Now, we all know Peter Mueller is capable of being one of the better players in the game. But maybe it's better if Mueller doesn't believe he already is. Over the past few games, Mueller has looked like he is suffering from the prototypical sophomore jinx. A gifted scorer, Mueller has nevertheless had issues with keeping up with the game this year. His skating has never been the best, but more worrisome are indications that his motivation may not be where it should be. (Translated from coward-ese: He looks lazy.) Mueller was the ingenue of the 2007-2008 Coyotes, but now with a season under his belt and a bunch of hot young rookies surrounding him he has less of an excuse to give anything less than his top effort on the ice. Look for a possible benching in the near future if he can't get back on track.
Kyle Turris - Turris is probably the best-known Coyotes rookie and it is true that his ceiling is sky-high. But the youngster wearing #91 may have been given too big of a bite to chew on this season. Turris, who even after bulking up in the off-season looks like a waif on the ice - seriously appears to need at least a half-season in the AHL to work on his game. The only problem is that Turris' standing with the coaching staff - particularly Wayne Gretzky - may prevent him from being sent down to get the seasoning he needs.
Ed Jovanovski - JovoCop had a terrific season last year. This year, however, he still has not registered a point. This has made his usual gaffes with the puck harder to swallow. Jovanovski needs to get his offensive game going as well as his physical play to balance out the turnovers and muffed plays that can prove to be so vexing for Coyotes fans.
Phoenix is still averaging 90 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures, which isn't helping the quality of what is widely considered to be one of the league's worst ice surfaces.
Today's Relocation Probability
Zero. Sorry, Winnipeg and Hamilton...
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