Tag:Dave Tippett
Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:57 pm
 

The Playoffs have already started for Coyotes

CoyotesBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After cruising through the month of February without a loss in regulation or overtime, the Phoenix Coyotes have hit a rut at the beginning of March, losing three consecutive games, including Monday's 2-1 decision in Pittsburgh.

For a team that's already in what it considers to be playoff mode, needing every win it can get along the way in what is a completely unpredictable and constantly changing playoff race, that's a tough, and potentially costly, stretch of games.

The Western Conference race is so close right now that the Coyotes dropped from the No. 3 seed, and the top spot in the Pacific Division, all the way down to the No. 7 seed, losing the top spot in the division due to a tiebreaker to the Dallas Stars -- a team that didn't even play on Monday night. Entering Tuesday's game in Columbus the Coyotes are just three points ahead of the ninth seeded Avalanche, and one of four teams, along with Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles, fighting for the Pacific Division crown.

Needless to say, it's a tight race.

After winning 11 of 12 games in February (the only loss came during a shootout in Vancouver), the Coyotes skyrocketed up the standings and had an opportunity late last week and over the weekend to continue their impressive run, only to drop home games to Calgary, and even worse, the Blue Jackets, the worst team in hockey for much of the season. It's turned into a small three-game losing streak that continued on Monday night, and slow starts have doomed them in each of the past three games.

They were out-chanced and outplayed for much of the game against the Flames on Thursday, and didn't start to generate any substantial or sustained offensive pressure against Columbus until mid-way through the third period on Saturday, at which point the game was already well in hand in favor of the Blue Jackets.

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There are no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and there can't be, especially when it's this late in the season and playoff spots are on the line (as forward Radim Vrbata put it on Monday night game, "Points are what count and tonight we didn't get any") but Monday's game at least felt like it was a step back in the right direction, and even though they came up short, the vibe in the Coyotes room after the game was that they probably deserved a better fate. Facing one of the top teams in the NHL, on the road, the Coyotes at least seemed to get back to the style of hockey that resulted in their near-perfect month of February.

"I thought our compete level was very good," said head coach Dave Tippett. "We did a lot of things hard in the hockey game, it's unfortunate we didn't get rewarded around the net a little more. We created some opportunities there we didn't capitalize on, but we gave them a couple outnumbered breaks and they capitalized, and it ended up being the difference in the game."

Added captain Shane Doan, "We felt we controlled the game for most of the night, and then we had some moments where they kind of found some momentum, but we played the game the way we wanted to."

It was one of those nights where they outplayed their opponent for much of the game, only to lose because the other goaltender simply stole one in what turned out to be a pretty impressive goaltender duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith.

Smith, Phoenix's surprisingly strong and steady replacemen for Ilya Bryzgalov, seemed to be disappointed with his performance on Monday after giving up two early goals, including one to former Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, and talked about his need to be better. But it would be difficult, if not impossible for him to be much better than he's been this season, seeing as how he's already been one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Coyotes don't need him to record a shutout every single game (which is what it would have required to win on Monday), they simply need more consistent offensive pressure and efforts like the one they received in Pittsburgh, even if it came in defeat.

If they play like that over their remaining 16 games, they're going to win a lot more than they lose.

So what's facing the Coyotes the rest of the way? Their remaining schedule is split evenly, with eight home games and eight road games, and eight games against teams that are currently in playoff spots and eight games against teams that are not currently in playoff spots. The biggest issue they have within the division, as of Tuesday, is that San Jose and Los Angeles still have games in hand, and while they have no remaining games with the Kings, they still have to play the Sharks three more times, including two in Phoenix, a series of matchups that could determine whether or not the Coyotes win the division, or perhaps miss the playoffs entirely.

Whether they make it or not, every game the rest of the way is essentially a playoff game anyway.

Said Smith, "They started a month ago for us."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 25, 2012 10:50 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 11:03 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Coyotes, Kings and Capitals



By: Adam Gretz


There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

1. Phoenix Coyotes: Is it too soon to give Dave Tippett the Jack Adams Award? Maybe, but it looks like he might have another one coming his way if this continues in Phoenix.

With their 3-1 win against the Oilers on Saturday afternoon the Coyotes won for the ninth time in the past 10 games, a stretch that has seen them go without a loss in regulation, and thanks to San Jose's loss in Nashville, they actually moved into sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division. For now, anyway.

And this is a team that looked like it may not make the playoffs as recently as three weeks ago.

[Related: Coyotes 3, Oilers 1]

2. Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter's debut with the Kings was a rather large success. He didn't record a point in the Kings' 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, of course, but the fact the Kings scored four goals in a single game is impressive enough. Entering Saturday night they have scored just 18 goals in their previous 11 games.

Leading the was captain Dustin Brown as he did his part to respond to recent trade rumors with a hat trick, scoring two power play goals and a shorthanded goal, while also assisting on Willie Mitchell's second period goal.

Big-time performance for a Kings team that desperately needed it. Oh, hey, and another shutout for Jonathan Quick.

[Related: Kings 4, Blackhawks 0]

3. Washington Capitals: A fast start and a huge road win -- 4-2 over the Maple Leafs -- for what has been one of the worst road teams in the Eastern Conference . It's only the third road win for the Capitals in their past eight road games, and it allows them to keep pace with Florida and Winnipeg in the race for not only the No. 8 spot in the East, but also the top spot in the Southeast Division.

[Related: Capitals 4, Maple Leafs 2]

4. Wojtek Wolski and the Panthers: On the same day that the Florida Panthers acquired him from the New York Rangers, Wojtek Wolski was in the lineup for his new team and he not only scored his first goal of the season, it came with less than two minutes to play in the third period to tie the game at two, sending the game to overtime where the Panthers would eventually win in a shootout. That's how you make a debut and make an impact for your new team.

[Related: Panthers 3, Hurricanes 2 -- Wolski traded to Panthers]

Losers

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Entering Saturday's game the playoff chances for the Tampa Bay Lightning were slim, especially now that the team has established itself as a seller. Their 8-1 loss to the Penguins can be described using only one word: Woof.

[Related: Penguins 8, Lightning 1 -- Malkin's highlight reel goal]

2. Toronto Maple Leafs: In what was a classic four-point game in the standings for both Toronto and Washington, the Maple Leafs got off to a slow start giving up two goals just three minutes into the first period and were never able to recover on their way to a 4-2 loss to the Capitals. The Leafs have now lost four in a row and eight out of their past nine. Perhaps being a buyer at the trade deadline isn't the best course of action for Toronto at this point.

Then again, Ron Wilson did his part to throw James Reimer in front of the bus during his post-game press conference, and seemed to be begging for a goaltender to be added. It could be an interesting 36 hours in Toronto.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 17, 2012 4:28 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 4:32 pm
 

Optimism rises in Phoenix in owner search

By Brian Stubits

Perhaps it's just a matter of timing after Seattle announced plans for a new arena contingent on securing NBA and NHL franchises, but there is sight of optimism again in Phoenix.

While the play of the Coyotes of late has increased the optimism they could be headed to the postseason for a third consecutive season, the off-ice story is the one that continues to hang over their heads. And for the first time in a really long time there is something that sounds positive for keeping the team in the desert.

From the Arizona Republic:

For now, there are only whispers. But Jerry Colangelo hears potential buyers are "milling around." Former NHL star Jeremy Roenick said he's been approached by Greg Jamison, the former San Jose Sharks CEO who is trying to raise sufficient funds. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently said there's a third party involved, joining the Jamison Group.

One source said this third party is not only very real, but extremely wealthy and spending serious money on due diligence. That's a great sign. And you can't help but notice the renewed faith in the voice of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett.

"We are still hoping for a good ending," Tippett said. "You look at what's happened over the last three years, and we've found a way to stay competitive. I think there's a ton of upside with this team [for any investor]. We just have to find a way to get the deal done."

Now I've learned over the last couple of years (feels like even longer) not to get too excited with any signs of optimism concerning a new owner for the Coyotes. We've been down this road many times and here we are, still looking at the team being owned by the NHL.

As I noted, the timing is a bit interesting. The story comes out within 24 hours of Seattle revealing its plan. To secure an NHL franchise, everybody immediately looks at the Coyotes as the team that would be needed in Seattle for the arena. Whether that's intentional or not, I don't know.

But lending creedance to it being more than just a well-timed response is the story that drifted out last week about Jeremy Roenick saying he was contacted about investing in a potential ownership group. So the iron was a little hot before the Seattle news surfaced.

It's finally coming to the pot of doing it or getting off the pot, if you know what I mean.

This much is certain: The NHL will not allow the city of Glendale to rent the team for another year and another $25 million. That means the endgame is coming. The time for band-aids is over, and the Coyotes actually share that philosophy.

Well this is a good sign at least, but I'll wait for something more tangible.

More from Eye on Hockey

How would Seattle fare with NHL?
Seattle unveils plan for arena
Roenick trying to get involved

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 18, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Selanne returns, but Jets take off

By Brian Stubits

Saturday night in Winnipeg was just a little bit louder this time. That's because the Jets fans were more than eager to welcome back Teemu Selanne, a one-time favorite son in the 'Peg under the Jets 1.0.

He didn't leave Winnipeg in a bad fashion (he was traded to the Ducks). He didn't burn any bridges or ever say anything negative about Winnipeg and the fans there. Oh, and he was pretty damn good when wore the red, white and blue of the old Jets, too.

As good as Selanne has been throughout his career, he was never better than he was in his first season in the NHL, playing for the Jets. He set career highs that season with 76 goals and 132 points, marks that he really hasn't come even close to seeing since.

So it took an awful long time (try 15 years) for the Jets fans to get their chance to welcome him back, and they took it.

When Selanne's Anaheim Ducks took to the ice, the crowd was already cheering for the hometown team. The cheer was almost doubled when Selanne came out and the ovation continued through Selanne getting a standing ovation. It was a great moment.

That was well and good, a highlight of the weekend to be sure.

But then came the hockey game. And with that came another Jets home win, 5-3 over Selanne's Ducks.

Yes, the Jets are playing some pretty good hockey these days, especially at home. Coming into the season, the assumption was easy to make that the Jets would be a much better home team, but I still don't think many believed that would translate into Winnipeg having the best home record in the Eastern Conference a week before Christmas.

As things stand right now, the Jets are the closest competitor to the Southeast-leading Panthers. They got off to a bad start, but have flipped the script. The Jets have won six of their last eight games and are just one point behind the Sabres and Maple Leafs in the East playoff picture.

It's essentially the same team that was playing in Atlanta as the Thrashers this time last season, so we can still draw comparisons and warnings from that team. So I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everybody that the Thrashers were leading the Southeast Division this week one season ago. How did that turn out for them, exactly?

Still, it's hard not to believe this team is taking strides, as small as they might be. Evander Kane is beginning to break out and become the player the franchise thought he could be. The young sharpshooter has a team-high 15 goals, five behind the league-leading pace from Steven Stamkos. Dustin Byfuglien, for as rough of an offseason as he had, is still playing well ... offensively at least.

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Ondrej Pavelec has been good enough in goal. His numbers are hardly stellar, but that's pretty much the goalie that he is. He won't compete for any Vezina trophies, but he is good enough to hold the Jets in a lot of games.

If the ship continues to take on water in Anaheim -- and really, at this point it seems like the holes won't be patched this season, even with a new coach in there -- they will have decisions to make with the roster. Talks about Bobby Ryan were already a hot topic. But the Ducks might consider doing more.

At this point in his career, Selanne made it very clear that he was going to only play in Anaheim if he were to play this season. He likely wouldn't waive his no-movement clause if asked. But maybe, if there were one place he would consider it, perhaps it would be Winnipeg. At his age, the Ducks obviously don't have Selanne in the long-term plans, so if they were able to get a player/players or picks for Selanne, they probably would love it at this moment.

That's all pure speculation and the chances of a Selanne trade are awful at best. But wouldn't it be great if Selanne had another return to Winnipeg later this season?

Wish finally granted

For months, Kyle Turris made it clear that he didn't want to play for the Phoenix Coyotes any more. His contract negotiation was long and contentious. During that time, Coyotes GM Dan Maloney was insistent he wasn't trading Turris, no matter what teams offered for the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick. He held firm and eventually got Turris under contract or two years and $2.8 million.

But the calls didn't stop and Turris certainly didn't seem to be secure in his position with the Coyotes. He had to be under contract or risk sitting out the entire season. So this weekend Maloney found a deal to his liking for Turris from Senators GM Bryan Murray. In exchange for Turris, the Coyotes received young and promising defenseman David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick.

I had long held the notion that any return in the trade that netted the Coyotes even a decent return would be a good deal. This would qualify as at least a decent return.

I have just never understood the drooling over Turris from a lot of teams. There was reportedly a lot of interest on Turris from numerous teams, both before he signed the contract and after. And just as he should have, Maloney was playing hard to get and making it obvious that it was going to take a lot for him to trade Turris.

Who knows, maybe Turris will find the environment suitable enough to become the player that everybody seems to think he can be. Maybe getting more of a chance to play and being in a less-regimented system will allow him to put up the best numbers of his career. If he does, I'll eat my crow.

But at this point in his career, he has been underwhelming, for sure. Heck, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett had made Turris a healthy scratch in his final two games as a member of the Coyotes. The interest in him still surrounds that potential tag, and I don't know how many seasons a player gets to play while still holding onto that tag.

Rundblad, meanwhile, has that potential tag, too. But he's a rookie in the NHL, so the sample size is much, much smaller. And with the way Erik Karlsson has developed this season for Ottawa, it made Rundblad a bit more expendable. However it is never an exciting prospect when you give up a young defenseman with loads of potential, those are pretty solid commodities.

My immediate reaction is that I don't like the deal for Ottawa. But like any trade, you can't truly judge it for another five years or so.

Give the Devil his due

The New Jersey Devils are starting to play some pretty good hockey. With their 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens and interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, New Jersey has run off four wins in a row and has two points in six of their last seven games. They have moved into sixth place in the East, joining Atlantic foes the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers in the top six.

The line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and rookie Adam Henrique has been spectacular. Henrique is the name that sticks out like a sore thumb in that trio with two perennial All-Stars, but he has been just as terrific. Any time this line is in the game right now, you get the sense that the Devils are on the verge of scoring.

But there is still some secondary scoring coming right now, including two goals from Patrik Elias in Saturday's win. Why is that noteworthy? Because the two goals allowed Elias to tie then surpass John MacLean as the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer.

Also on the minds of the Devils is the status of this year's top draft pick, defenseman Adam Larsson. He took an elbow to the head from the Canadiens' Erik Cole behind the net, a hit that Brendan Shanahan didn't deem worthy of a suspension.

Outside of that, things are going pretty well for the Devils these days.

Tip of the hat

Without Sidney Crosby on the ice, it's a lot easier for Evgeni Malkin to get the spotlight and attention that he deserves. That's easy when you have a game like he did on Saturday, with or without Crosby playing.

Malkin had a hat trick and two assists (of course I'm going against him in Fantasy this week) as the Penguins drilled Ryan Miller and the Sabres, 8-3. That brings Pittsburgh's goal total to 107 this season, behind only the Flyers and Bruins for the most in the league.

What makes it even all the more amazing is this gem of a stat from @PensInsideScoop.

"#Pens salary of their 20-man roster Sat was $38.9 million. That's 25 mill under cap (64.3) and 9 bellow cap bottom (38.9) missing $25 million in salary w injuries 2 Crosby, Staal, Letang, Martin, Michalek. That doesn't include 5 other hurt guys"

Speaking of injuries ...

This won't surprise too many fans out there, but San Jose Sharks forward Martin Havlat appeared to injure himself pretty badly in San Jose's 3-2 win on Saturday night.

When he was hopping onto the ice in a line change, Havlat seemed to get stuck for a second on the boards and immediately came right back off the ice in pain, seemingly in his leg.

It comes just when the Sharks appear to be finally piecing things together a little bit. For the first time this season, San Jose has won three games in a row at the shark Tank and is now in first place in the Pacific, tied at the moment in points with the Stars while having a game in hand.

For Havlat, though, maybe a break could give him a chance to revitalize himself. It's been a big struggle for him since being traded to San Jose this summer. He has just two goals and 13 assists through 26 games, well off his 22-goal, 40-assist season he had with the Wild last year.

Quote of the weekend

"The Leafs have always been a team I hated as a kid. For some reason it feels good to play here -- it's a great building, the fans are great, it's nice to play. I know a lot of fans in Vancouver don't like this team. ... It just makes it extra special." -- Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks.

Burrows, who hails from Quebec and grew up a Canadiens fan, finds it awfully easy to hate the Maple Leafs for that reason alone.

So for him, scoring the game-winning goal in Toronto is always special, particularly when it's on Hockey Night in Canada.

And with the 5-3 win, the Canucks keep climbing back to where people expected them to be this season. They are now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have climbed to within five points of the Wild in the Northwest Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 1:33 pm
 

Coyotes won't go away so long as Tippett stays

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Phoenix Coyotes are a little more like another inhabitant of the Southwest, cockroaches. They just won't go away -- speaking both of on-ice ability and relocation. They can survive anything, it seems.

Lose Ilya Bryzgalov? That's alright. Kyle Turris refuses to play for them? They survive.

"It's no secret we don't have an [Alex] Ovechkin or a [Nicklas] Backstrom or a superstar guy like that who's going to get us 50 goals or 150 points," defenseman Keith Yandle said before Monday's game against the Capitals. "It has to be a collective effort in our locker room for us to win games."

There have been some constants through it all in recent seasons, namely coach Dave Tippett. I hesitate to give too much credit to coaches in sport, I believe they are given way too much credit or blame for a team's successes or failures, but it's hard not to praise Tippett's work in Phoenix. As Yandle points out, there is no superstar on this team (Paul Bissonnette's Twitter fame doesn't count here). The closest they come is probably Yandle himself, or veteran Shane Doan.

That's where Tippett comes in. It's starting to look like no coincidence that Bryzgalov's career took off when he began playing under Tippett in the desert. The same is happening now with Mike Smith, the goaltender they signed to be the No. 1 guy despite no track record of being that in the past. He is performing well enough to have the low-scoring Coyotes hanging in the early going with the Pacific Division heavyweights.

It all comes back to the system. Eye On Hockey cohort Adam Gretz looked at the numbers of the Tippett system a ways back and you see the drop in production hasn't been that drastic from Byzgalov to Smith.

"Unless our goalie stands on his head or something like that, or we get a couple of fluke goals, we have a tough time winning if we get out of our system," Yandle said. "That's why our coaches put it in play and they know that's how we have to win.

"Here's the thing with our team: I feel like we get better as we go along. As soon as everybody, so called, buys into the system and does what the coaches want us to do, I think we're a lot better team. It might take us a few games to do that but I think we're on that path. Just taking it in stride right now and trying to do what the coaches want us to do and I think we've been getting better every game."

While the system isn't failing the Coyotes, perhaps the "system" is (that's an attempt at a segue, folks., emphasis on attempt) You know, the system that continues to leave the team's future in the clouds as it remains under NHL control?

Because of that uncertainty -- or probably it's the simple answer that Phoenix just isn't a hockey market -- the Coyotes don't really get the feel of a home game often. If ever.

"We play a road game even at home," Tippett laughed.

You don't need me to tell you the Coyotes don't draw well. This season they are again at the bottom of the league in attendance. So then it should come as no surprise that Phoenix is pretty good on the road.

"We play a pretty simple game. We're expected to compete hard," Tippett said. "You go into a road game, you got to make sure you have your details are good, you're playing the game strong and smart and finding ways to win. That's kind of the way we've been on the road. I think we do the same thing at home, but I think our road stats are a little better right now."

Yandle had a slightly different idea on why they fare well away from the desert.

"We're just the type of team that plays a road-style game where it's just ugly and you try to take crowds out of it," he said. "We try to work a team and not do anything fancy. Maybe on the road we're not trying to impress anyone, we're just trying to play our game to the fullest."

Of course, no story on the Coyotes would be complete without a real mention of Doan, the lifelong Jet/Coyote. For most teams, the last players on the ice for practices and morning skates are the scratches, guys who need a little extra work. For Phoenix, the last player off the ice every time is Doan.

"He's probably one of the best captains of a team I've ever seen around," Tippett said. "He has total respect from his teammates. His attitude and work ethic toward the game is phenomenal. This organization is the only organization he's really known, so he's the been the cornerstone here and he carries that label very well. True face of our franchise and true leader of our franchise."

Doan is third on the team with six goals and six assists. He's first in longevity. He is one of those players that fans often romanticize about, somebody who plays his entire career for one organization. While he still has a few years to go at age 35, it's tough to imagine him up and leaving at this point.

As I said, some things just don't change for this franchise.

Then again, maybe the name Coyotes does fit. After all, Wile. E. Coyote could withstand whatever the Roadrunner did to him.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 2, 2011 4:13 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:36 pm
 

The drop from Bryzgalov to Smith

Msmith1

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: how big of a drop has Phoenix experience in goal with Mike Smith replacing Ilya Bryzgalov


By: Adam Gretz

A lot has been made about the early struggles of Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia to start the season, but there hasn't been much discussion about the goalie -- Mike Smith -- that's been asked to replace him in Phoenix, and how much of a dropoff there has been from one season to the next.

Bryzgalov had an outstanding run in Phoenix after being claimed on waivers during the 2007-08 season and proved himself to be one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. We know he's better than Smith, and that the Coyotes would have some large shoes to fill in his absence, but how much of an impact has the drop from him to Smith had on the Coyotes through the first 10 games of the season?

The answer so far: not that much.

When I spoke to Smith over the summer shortly after he signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes, one of the things we talked about was head coach Dave Tippett and his defensive system and how favorable such a system can be for a goalie. Said Smith back in July: "There are systems that are favorable to goalies because you're going to get more shots from the outside. There's not going to be as many scoring chances from the great scoring chance areas in the middle of the ice. For me, with my size and my ability, if I feel like I can get a lot of shots from the outside, I'm going to do my best and have a good opportunity to make those saves."

Of course, that's not really unique to the Coyotes. Every team in the NHL wants to keep the play away from the middle of the ice and limit the number of shots they allow to actually get on net. After all, you're never going to hear a coach say, "yeah, our goal is to give up a ton of shots and scoring chances and let our goalie try to bail us out every shift."

Still, under Tippett's watch the Coyotes have been a very smart, disciplined team defensively and not only have had some underrated defensemen, they've also had a lot of excellent defensive forwards, all of which makes a goaltenders job just a little bit easier. And goaltenders have had their share of success playing for Tippett in Dallas and Phoenix.

Bryzgalov's two best seasons in the NHL came while playing under Tippett's system in Phoenix. Smith had previous experience with him in Dallas for parts of two seasons in the mid-2000's, a stretch that also produced some of his best hockey at the NHL level. And while we're on the subject of coaches, don't discount the impact of goalie coach Sean Burke. I've had more than one Coyotes player tell me over the past year-and-a-half that Burke had a positive impact on Bryzgalov's development, while Smith himself said he was looking forward to the oppurtunity to learn from him.

So how much of a difference are we talking about this season with Smith in goal?

Here's a look at the performance of the Coyotes goalies at this point in the season over the past three seasons. The goalies in each season: 2011-12 -- Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera; 2010-11 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera; 2009-10 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera.

Phoenix Goaltending Through 10 Games
Year ES Shots ES Save % Total Shots Total Save % Goals Against
2011-12 244 .918 320 .912 28
2010-11 263 .923 345 .924 26
2009-10 196 .938 260 .915 22

The 2009-10 gave up so few goals at that point mainly because they weren't allowing any shots on goal, taking quite a bit of pressure off the two goalies. So far this season there has been a slight been a drop from where they were a year ago, which should be expected (again, Smith isn't as good as Bryzgalov) but it hasn't been all that large.

Actually, it's been quite insignificant. At least not as large as the $8 million difference in salary for this season would indicate. At the current pace the Coyotes would only give up an extra two or three goals per 500 even-strength shots (which can be a more accurate measure of goaltending talent). And if that turns out to be the case, how much are they really going to miss Bryzgalov?

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 11:23 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 1:24 am
 

Bryzgalov says he stinks, has no confidence

By: Adam Gretz

Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to be the answer to the one problem the Philadelphia Flyers have been trying to solve since Ron Hextall was occupying the crease -- goalie. The Flyers have so much confidence that Bryzgalov is the man to get them over the postseason hump that after acquiring his free agent rights over the summer from the Phoenix Coyotes, they signed him to an enourmous nine-year, $51 million contract that was also accompanied by the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

The entire sequence of events basically made Bryzgalov the face of the franchise. After two starts, Bryzgalov allowed just one goal in wins against Boston and New Jersey, and all seemed to be well. Over his past six appearances, however, everything has been a struggle.

He didn't start the Flyers' 9-8, goaltending optional loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, but did enter the game after Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals in less than two periods of work. Bryzgalov wasn't any better and surrendered four goals on just 10 shots. Add that performance to his previous five, and he's allowed 25 goals on 157 shots for a brutal .840 save percentage since a shutout against New Jersey. Given how tough of a hockey market Philadelphia can be, there's no doubt some serious concern filling the call-in shows.

And Bryzgalov's post-game comments on Thursday might be causing some panic.

"I have zero confidence in myself right now," said Bryzgalov during his post-game interview. "I just can't stop the puck, it's very simple. You can't ask more from the forwards, they scored eight goals and we're still losing."

He later added that he feels like he's "lost in the woods right now."

You can watch his entire presser right here, via Flyers beat writer Anthony SanFillippo:



Bryzgalov definitely has a bit of a personality to him, and it's not uncommon for him to give candid -- and sometimes bizarre -- quotes in interviews, but it's a bit early in the season to sound that defeated.

The Flyers are currently without their best defenseman, Chris Pronger, following an eye injury he suffered against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and in their first two games without him they've given up 14 goals against two teams off to bad starts in Montreal and Winnipeg. The defense is a mess, and the goaltending isn't helpinng.

Bryzgalov had his best seasons in Phoenix playing in Dave Tippett's tight defensive system, and it was going to be interesting to see how he would adjust to the changes around him. Like Roberto Luongo in Vancouver Bryzgalov isn't going to be this bad all season, but in Philadelphia, where the home town team blew up its roster to acquire -- and sign -- him this isn't the start anybody was looking for.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com