Emphasis On Checking Has Coyotes In Productive Mode

If statistics are to be believed, the Arizona Coyotes appeared to be improved on defense.

Coming into Monday night’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona had a modest two-game winning streak at the Gila River Arena and allowed just two goals in those two wins.

For the season, the goals-scored and goals-allowed ledger at home still remains unbalanced. After the Coyotes registered their third straight win on home ice with a 4-2 win over the Flyers before 16,521 Monday night, the Coyotes have scored 39 on the Gila River Arena pond and allowed 57. That translates into plus-minus number heading south. Here, Arizona cannot change the past but influence the future.

Going forward, that’s the approach the Coyotes take.

Despite gaining their first win on home ice in regulation time since defeating the Leafs, 3-2 on Nov. 4, the Coyotes’ path appears more determined. That’s due to a change of direction and emphasis on checking.

“We’ve talked about the need to check more in the offensive zone,” said Antoine Vermette, who scored twice and became the first Arizona player to hit double-digit in goals scored this season. ” That way, we try and minimize the opponents chances of controlling the puck and this opens more opportunities for us.”

Antoine Vermette Coyotes
Antoine Vermette (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

As the calendar is set to flip to a new year, and a clear improvement in recent games, the Coyotes buried themselves earlier with a nine-game, home losing streak. Still, the energy never left the locker room and, collectively, team members believe all is not lost.

“We’re getting big goals at the right time, and that’s making a difference,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who improved to 9-3-2 with the victory Monday night. “That builds confidence. I see this team gaining momentum and we need to keep it going.”

huge task ahead

Going into January, the Coyotes face an Herculean task. With the win over the Flyers, they increased their standing points to 32 but remain 22 points behind the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks.  Even to catch San Jose and Calgary (each with 43 points after Monday’s play) for the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Coyotes remain 11 points behind the Sharks and Flames.

At this point, no player or coach Dave Tippett is looking at the standings.

These days, it’s almost like a playoff mentality. At this point, Coyotes are taking one shift at a time and trying to win battles along the dasher boards. Gaining little battles turns into legitimate scoring opportunities and rushes down the rink, Tippett repeats to reporters, and explains that the recent emphasis on checking creates such chances.

“We’re more determined in the checking game,” Tippett said after beating the Flyers. “If you win the majority of the loose pucks, you have a chance to win. We’re checking harder, seeing more opportunities and it’s paying off.”

While the Coyotes have to leap-frog over several teams to be competitive, the Flyers face the same consequence.

With the loss Monday night, the Flyers remain at 34 points and eight back of the Capitals for the final Western Conference playoff spot. Despite a better season record than the Coyotes, Flyers’ coach Craig Berube said placement in the standings remains of little consequence.

“We lost points here,” he said after a forgotten night in the desert. “This is why you have to play a full 60 minutes every night. If not, you give yourself a chance to lose.”

For now, the Coyotes appear to put forth a solid effort for 60 minutes, but as Tippett said, “we gave away far too many chances” against the Flyers. Given the quagmire and the quick-sand in which the Coyotes appeared to skate until recent days, the last week has been a refreshing change from the disastrous past three months.

With the three-game winning streak at home, the Coyotes now hit the road for a New Year’s Eve date with the Stars in Dallas. Then, it’s back to the Gila River Arena for a six-game home stand.

This stretch better be productive because Arizona then embarks on an eight-game road trip while the Westgate complex, site of the Gila River Arena and the University of Phoenix Stadium, prepares to host the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.


follow Mark Brown on Twitter, @journalist193