The Arizona Coyotes are feeling the effects of playing in a “small market.”
While the greater Phoenix area is not exactly small, it’s population is 1.5 million. With 4.5 million in the greater metropolitan area, it’s the 13th largest market in the United States. As this is not considered a major media market, its population is both transient and seasonal, and the sports teams receive little national attention.
For those reasons, the Coyotes have fit comfortably into this demographic reality, but continue to receive little notice locally as well as nationally. With the Arizona Cardinals knocking on entrance to the Super Bowl, all else matters less in this market, and the Coyotes, save their loyal fan base, continue to play in anonymity.
In this light, the Coyotes, on a current streak of seven wins in their last 10 games, can increase this dynamic with a win over the visiting Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night. While several high-profile teams continue to gather the most attention, teams like the Coyotes and Florida Panthers, currently leading the Atlantic Division, have slid under the NHL radar screen.
Because the Coyotes are playing their best hockey of the season, that disturbs some players and makes others wax philosophical. From coach Dave Tippett, who says he’s not concerned with such dialogue, to goaltender Louis Domingue, who claimed after last Saturday’s win over Nashville that his team is not taken seriously, the Coyotes appear mixed on the issue of attention, or lack, thereof.
“You have to have respect for your opponent,” said center Antoine Vermette after practice Monday in the Gila River Arena. “We’re playing well right now, but for us to be successful, we have to play consistent hockey.”
Since the Coyotes dropped a 7-5 decision to Columbus at home Dec. 17, they posted a 7-1-2 mark in their last 10 games. Coming into play Tuesday night against the Oilers, they have won three straight, all in the regulation 60 minutes, for the first time this season. With Edmonton in town next, this is the sixth of a seven-game home stand. While the temptation is to gloat with that many consecutively on home ice, Tippett raises a cautionary voice.
“With the seven in a row at home, you would think that’s a good thing,” he said Monday after practice. “It can also work the other way. You can become too easy, too complacent, and so we have to watch against that.”
For now, the Coyotes are riding the coattails of Domingue, who is 6-2-2 with a 2.06 goals against average. That includes two shut-outs and a .936 save percentage. For his steady play, Domingue is one who feels the Coyotes should receive more attention. After the Nashville game, Domingue told reporters he did not think the Coyotes are taken seriously. Just as quick, he changed the subject, and identified a principal reason for the team’s recent success.
“Guys are playing well in front, clearing the puck at the right time, and it shows,” he said. “For me, I’m not thinking about the results. I just want to play a solid game, and things will take care of themselves. We’re starting to come around as a very good hockey team.”
By the time the Coyotes complete their current home stand against the Kings on Jan. 23, the future could become brighter. Hanging on to second place in the Pacific Division, they continue to cling to a post-season spot. That’s something not heard in the desert for the last number of years. Then again, it is much too early for this kind of discussion. After all, there is almost three months of hockey left on the schedule.
On Thursday Jan 21, the Coyotes will honor its captain Shane Doan for becoming the all-time franchise goal scorer.
The first 5,000 attending the game between the Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks will receive a Shane Doan “Cowboy” bobble-head, depicting Doan in his favorite Western attire. After the game, all fans receive a print that commemorates Doan’s achievement.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.